Materials and Ideologies in Court Culture 1550-1650: Rudolf von Deventer’s manuscripts of fireworks and artillery, dedicated to King Frederik II in the Royal Library, Copenhagen

The Royal Library owns two manuscripts, spectacularly illuminated with watercolours presenting firearms for war and fireworks for festivities. 

One of the almost identical manuscripts is dedicated to King Frederik II (r. 1559-1588), and the other is dedicated to Christoffer Valkendorf, an official at the court of the king, and dated 1585. They are written in German by the specialist in artillery, Rudolf von Deventer, who offers them to his patrons as a manual necessary for defence against the arch-enemies of the Christian regime.

A singular testimony of the war and festival culture, the manuscripts constitute the point of departure for our investigation of the concepts of materials and technologies at the time in Denmark and abroad. Our aim is a broader, interdisciplinary analysis of the ideas about culture, nature, and technology c. 1550-1650.

The project takes its point of departure in the digitization and transcription of the manuscripts, now accessible online at the Royal Library.

Please find the digitizations and transcriptions here:

Thott 273 digitization

Thott 273 transcription

NKS 101 digitization

NKS 101 transcription

The manuscript, NKS 101 is now published in English, edited by Anne Haack Christensen, Maria Fabricius Hansen, Casper Thorhauge Briggs-Mønsted & Jesper Svenningsen, foreword by Pamela Smith, and translation by Anne Simon:

  • Horror and Harm: Rudolf von Deventer’s Treatise on Gunpowder and Fireworks, c. 1585
  • The Society for the Publication of Danish Monuments and Aarhus University Press, 2023

We hope to draw new attention to a field crossing over various aspects of the visual culture of the time and shed light on some of the following questions:

  • What kinds of technology and machinery were used and how was it integrated in the celebrations?
  • How were firework spectacles designed and staged?
  • What were the relations between the designs and production of fireworks and artillery/equipment for military purposes?
  • How was allegory and symbolic content integrated in the festivals and for what purposes?
  • What role did royal sites (tournaments squares, parks etc.) as well as the urban fabric play as frameworks for the spectacles?
  • Which concepts of art and nature were embedded in the spectacles and their equipment?
  • In which ways were the media of books and prints used to present the theory and practice of materials and techniques related to the court celebrations?
  • How did artist’s mobility, trade and cultural exchange influence knowledge transfer related to the making of spectacles?



  • Charlotte Christensen, freelance art historian
  • Poul Grinder-Hansen, curator, National Museum.
  • Peter Zeeberg, Dansk Sprog- og Litteraturselskab
  • Hans Henrik Appel, freelance historian
  • Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen, Associate Professor in History, University of Copenhagen
  • Gunner Lind, Professor in History, University of Copenhagen
  • Jesper Svenningsen, Projektforsker, SMK



Research in the material and its contexts will be presented at an international conference at the University of Copenhagen and Kronborg Castle, 2-3- November 2023, generously funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. See call for papers.

Information about the conference, registration etc will be posted later this spring.



Video presentation of the two almost identical manuscripts about the use of gunpowder written by Rudolf von Deventer Bericht Vom Pulver Und Feuerwerken, (c. 1585) [NKS 101 Folio (Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen] and Kunstbuch von allerhandt von Kunsten der Argkaley, Geschütz und Feuerwerk zu Wasser und zu Lande: ad calcem subjicitur: Bericht von Pulver zu  machen, (1585), [Thott 2073 folio (Royal Danish Library, Coenhagen].



Name Title Phone E-mail
Briggs-Mønsted, Casper Thorhauge PhD Fellow +4535323774 E-mail
Hansen, Maria Fabricius Professor +4540876828 E-mail


Augustinus Foundation

Project period: 1 January 2022 - 31 December 2024

PI: Maria Fabricius Hansen