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What is the earliest reference to a bubble floating in the air?

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    Judging by the wiki entry on soap bubbles, soap bubbles (which I presume is the ones you mean) go back at least 400 years. Air bubbles in water go way further back -- as in Archimedes and earlier. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 11 at 17:23
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    @Denis de Bernardy: Are they floating in the air? – Tim Sep 11 at 18:41
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    @Tim: given the description I would assume so: "Soap bubbles have been used as entertainment for at least 400 years, as evidenced by 17th-century Flemish paintings showing children blowing bubbles with clay pipes." But quite frankly, I can't imagine it was only discovered in the 17th century. Soap was known as early as 2200BCE. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 12 at 3:26
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    Interesting question. Soap is thousands of years old, but older forms of soap were very different to today's - more like a paste of ash and fat or oil - and modern detergents often gets their bubbles from special chemicals. There are plenty of histories of the soap industry, but none seem to touch on this important issue. – Stuart F Sep 12 at 15:50
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Jean Froissart wrote

And I often, with a little tube, Made a soap bubble fly from the water.

I'm not sure when he wrote this but he died in about 1405.

Also, there's a picture of a monkey maybe blowing a bubble.

enter image description here

The text under the picture says

Detail from a full border of a monkey playing a game (possibly blowing bubbles?), from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 470v

OK, it's not quite in the air but it's close. There are some better ones at http://willscommonplacebook.blogspot.com/2013/02/blowing-bubbles.html but they aren't as old.

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