The mysterious language of fans

Museu da Moda Brasileira

The Uses and Traditions of Women's Accessories

The fan is believed to have originated in China in the 7th century, although it was depicted in wall paintings in ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Persia. It spread to Japan, where it was discovered by the Europeans and taken to Europe at the end of the 15th century.

Two-sided paper hand fan
Origin: China
Material: Ivory, silk, metal, paint, notch, montage, collage
Two-sided hand fan of paper, painted with Chinese palatial scenes, with human figures with ivory heads. Sixteen ivory sticks hollowed and carved. Master sticks embellished with floral motifs and oriental landscape. Gold metal handle. Tassels in silk threads in shades of purple.

The fan, which is a device for creating airflow while also being used as an adornment, had its own "language" at the 18th-century French court, especially during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

Paper hand fan
Origin: Paris, France
Material: Ivory, paper, print, engraving, notch, collage, montage
Advertising hand fan of printed paper. In the center is a pastoral scene from the 18th century and medallions with female heads and flower garland. In the back, in orange, garlands, bows and musical instruments. Embroidered with gold sequins. Seventeen ivory sticks, including master sticks. Gold metal handle. Sticks engraved with flowers. Ivory buttons.

Purse silk fan
Origin: Germany
Material: Silk, silver, metal, foundry, paint, embroidery, lace, montage
Silk purse fan with hand-painted floral motifs (blue and pink flowers) on a tulle leaf. Embroidered with small silver sequins and bordered with lace. Silver handle and buttons.

The fan, with its various shapes and luxury materials, was seen as a symbol of luxury and elegance, and was an essential accessory in high-society wardrobes during the 19th century.

Hand-painted silk hand fan
Material: Silk, bone, metal, bevelled, paint, gilding, assembly, collage
Hand-painted silk hand fan. Margins decorated with flowers and embroidered with small sequins in gold metal. In the center, a scene of the interior of a Dutch house, with a female figure sitting on a bench, next to a basket with wool and ball on the floor; In front of her a young man dressed in eighteenth-century costumes holding a bunch of flowers in his hands behind his back. Eighteen sticks, including the masters, in cut and engraved bone with gold and silver in floral motifs. Metal handle and button.

In Brazil, the use of fans were spreaded in the 19th century, with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family. King John VI of Portugal was also responsible for introducing the use of commemorative fans depicting key moments in Brazilian history.

Hand-painted paper hand fan
Author: S. Grand
Material: Wood, paper, montage, collage, paint
Hand-painted paper hand fan, with the flags of France and England, cannon, and female figure, in the background country landscape. Thirteen sticks in dark wood, two plain master sticks. Metal handles and buttons.

Brazilian Independency celebratory hand fan
Origin: Brasil
Material: Paper; Mother-of-pearl; Paint; clipping
Commemorative fan of the Independence of Brazil with twenty-one rods with mother-of-pearl decorated with silver inlays and painting and details with gilding. In the main face, in the center, portrait of D. Pedro I surmounted by the imperial crown. Decoration with pots and flowers in blue and green. On the back, to the center, peacock on tree in strong colors. Around, decorated with garlands painted in red and yellow. In the master rod, a bird similar to a flamingo. Axis terminated by an iron handle, through which passes the tassel of yellow beads and yellow threads.

During the golden age of the fan, it was used by men and women as a means for a couple to communicate by sending discreet messages based on the position of the fan in relation to the body.

Deck type hand fan
Origin: Italy
Material: Wood, metal, montage, paint, collage, satin
Deck type hand fan, with seventeen wooden sticks, rounded at the ends and fastened by satin ribbon. In the center, hand-painted St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, predominating the shades of blue. Straight and slightly bulging sticks. Metal handle and button.

Black fabric Fan
Material: Plastic, fabric / cloth, assembly, collage, painting
Fan with 17 sticks, including guards, in silver. Leaf in black fabric with floral decoration in the center, and on the right and left sides, depicting flowers and branches covered in leaves in red, pink, blue, white, yellow, purple, and green.

Sandalwood deck type hand fan
Material: Wood, sandalwood, silk, clipping, notch, montage
Sandalwood deck type hand fan, with fourteen cut-out sticks forming rosettes, linked by beige silk ribbon. Two plain flat sticks. Border trimmed in volute. Silver metal handle and buttons.

The oldest fans were made from exquisite materials such as feathers, precious stones, paper, or parchment, and later with fabric, lace, or silk. The leaves were painted or embroidered with sequins, or silver or gold thread.

Dark turtle hand fan
Material: Turtle, feather, cotton, notch, montage, collage, satin
Hand fan with nineteen dark turtle sticks, united by brown satin ribbon. Each stick is coated on the front by scintillating hummingbird feathers in the colors: green, copper, blue and violet. Handle and button on dark turtle.

White and brown feather Fan
Material: Feather, vegetable fiber, assembly, collage
Fan with seven sticks. Made from bird feathers in white and various shades of brown. "Monture" made from plant fiber (patchouli), tied with a green ribbon. Wire ribs covered with brown thread. This fan belonged to Henriqueta Brieba.

White, blue and red plumes Fan
Origin: Amazon, Brazil
Material: Feather, plume, silk, montage, collage
Fan made from white feathers and plumes, with blue and red feather detail. Seven sticks made from pressed patchouli and linked with blue silk ribbons. Metal handle covered in dark red cord. Blue velvet tassel with pink silk strands.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, fans even had different uses. Mourning fans, for example, were made primarily from black ostrich feathers with tortoiseshell handles. They later featured black lace or silk, and dark embellishments.

Black ostrich feather hand fan
Material: Turtle, feather, metal, notch, satin, collage, montage
Black ostrich feather hand fan. Seventeen dark turtle rods united by black satin ribbon. Light turtle handle.

Black chantilly lace hand fan
Material: Poliester, turtle, montage, lace, collage
Black lace hand fan with seventeen turtle sticks. Turtle handle and buttons.

Black organdy hand fan
Material: Turtle, cotton, montage, collage, paint
Black organdi fan painted in rococo style with lady sitting on wall, receiving bouquet of flowers and cupid's card to the center. Flowers' garlands finished by ties complement the composition. Eighteen sticks in turtle. Handle and button on turtle.

Black lace and organza Fan
Material: Turtle, cotton, lace, collage, embroidery, paint, montage
Fan in black lace and organza. In the center are the initials "B" and "T," surmounted by a countess's crown and flanked by cherubs. Eighteen sticks in dark tortoiseshell, decorated with floral and harp motifs in gold and silver. Black ribbon with a loop for hanging

Unlike mourning fans, wedding fans were usually white or beige, decorated with stones or pearls, and finished in gold or silver.

White lace hand fan
Material: ivory, silk, metal, montage, lace, embroidery, paint, engraving
Fan in white lace, embroidered with metallic thread. In the center, medallion with couple representing court scene. Eighteen ivory sticks, cast and engraved in silver. Silver metal handle and button. Tassel in light beige silk.

White plume hand fan
Material: Plume, turtle, metal, montage, collage
White plume hand fan. Eighteen sticks in clear turtle. Master stick with monogram of metal studded with shiny stone.

Beige satin hand fan
Material: Wood, silk, mother of pearl, paint, lace, montage, collage, lacquered
Beige satin hand fan, hand-painted, with white flowers decoration and lace application in the center and on the edges. Eighteen sticks painted white with floral motifs in silver. mother of pearl button. Metal handle. Tassel in beige silk line with braided cotton yarn ring.

Silk sheet hand fan
Material: Silk, bone, metal, paint, embroidery, notch, gilding, montage
Silk sheet hand fan, embroidered with gold ribbon and sequins in gold metal of various shapes (circles, leaves and flowers) and sizes forming garlands. Eighteen cut and hollowed bone shafts decorated with floral motifs in pink, green, blue, silver and gold. Button in metal.

Organdy Fan
Materiais: Cotton, mother of pearl, embroidery, gilding, montage
Hand fan of organdy leaf, embroidered with small golden sequins of various shapes and sizes (circular, in flower and oval). Sixteen sticks cast in mother of pearl with drawings, painted in gold. Metal handle and button.

Some interesting facts about the "language" of fans and how ladies conducted themselves when using a fan include: "I love you"—hiding the eyes behind an open fan; "Come here"—walking and pointing with the fan held open in the left hand; "I love another"—twirling the fan in front of the face with the left hand; "When can we meet?"—open fan resting against the neck; "Don't forget me"—touching the hair with a closed fan; "Goodbye"—opening and closing the fan; "Yes"—resting the fan on the right side of the face; "No"—resting the fan on the left side of the face; "I need to speak to you"—touching the fan with the fingertips.

Black silk hand fan
Material: Silk, wood, paint, embroidery, montage, collage
Black silk hand fan, hand-painted, with floral motifs: branches embroidered with strings and green and gold metal sequins. In the center is the figure of a hat and bird with garland. Fifteen sticks in black wood interspersed with friezes and golden and silver flowers. Metal handle and button.

Beige paper Fan
Material: Paper, wood, paint, notch, collage, montage
Fan with a beige paper leaf, with hand-painted blue flowers and small sequins made of gilded metal. Seventeen sticks painted an ivory color with silver detail. Metal handle.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, fans became an ideal advertising tool. The fan had two sides—one side facing the holder and the other the viewer—making it ideal for displaying two messages at once. Advertising fans were used in many capitalist cultures, often even being mass produced.

Paper hand fan
Origin: Paris, France
Material: Wood, paper, print, collage, montage
Advertising paper hand fan, printed on white paper with scenes of children playing, cat, allegorical figures and mill. Prevailing colors: black, red, yellow and brown. Nine sticks in light wood. Guards covered by the paper. Metal buttons.

Paper hand fan
Author: Benjamin Lachelin
Date: 1908
Origin: Paris, France
Material: Wood, paper, print, clipping, collage, montage
Advertising paper hand fan with beige foil, printed in full color. Image of stylized cats with human figure, skating. Twelve wooden sticks. Varnished master sticks. Buttons made of metal.

Silk handbag fan
Material: Silk, wood, paint, embroidery, montage, collage
Hand-painted silk handbag fan with three Dutchmen dressed in red with white aprons and caps. Margin decorated with flowers in shades of red, green and white, all embroidered with sequins in gold and silver. Twelve wooden sticks enameled in red and engraved in gold. Guards decorated with the same decorative motifs. Metal handle and button.

Silk handbag hand fan
Material: Silk, wood, montage, paint, collage, embroidery
Hand-painted silk hand fan, with three Dutchmen dressed in blue with white aprons and caps at the center. Margin decorated with flowers in shades of pink, green and white, all embroidered with sequins in gold and silver. Twelve wooden rods enameled in navy blue and engraved in gold. Metal handle and button.

The age of the fan as a cooling device used at operas, dances, and receptions came to an end in the 1930s. While they were once used in fashion, religion, battles, and ceremonies as a symbol of art, culture, geography, and history, today they are still synonymous with elegance in some countries and on special occasions.

Two-sided paper hand fan
Origin: Paris, França
Author: M.Spieq
Material: Ivory, paper, montage, print
Two-sided pinted paper hand fan: on one side, medallions with everyday scenes, and on the other, on the center, a vase with flowers and garlands. Fourteen ivory sticks, engraved in gold, including master sticks. Gold metal ring and buttons.

Two-sided hand fan on paper
Material: Mother of pearl, paper, paint, inlay, gilding, montage, enamel
Two-sided paper hand fan with margins decorated in golden scrolls. One of the faces is painted with a countryside scene: in the center, a couple sitting down blessing a kneeling couple, other people around and in the background, castle and countryside. On the other side, another country scene: in the foreground, young girls talking, dancing and holding garlands, and young couple on the right. Hollow tree with photo and image. In the background, mountains. Fourteen mother of pearl sticks cast and painted in gold, including masters sticks, some sticks painted with colored flowers in the center. Crafted handle in metal arabesques and green button inlaid. Master sticks with medallions for photos and enamel decoration.

Sepia paper hand Fan
Origin: Paris, France
Material: Wood, paper, print, collage, montage, lacquered
Paper hand fan, printed in sepia tones. Medallion on the center with figure of woman with dress of century XVIII. On the sides, garlands of flowers and figures of birds. Twelve wooden sticks, lacquered in white. The last sticks covered by the fan blade serving as master sticks. Metal buttons.

Arsenio de Niemeyer's birthday ball dance card
Date: March 3rd, 1893
Origein: Brazil
Material: Paper, cotton,print, pritting ink
Fan-shaped card, trimmed edges, lightbackground, with two bluish gray stripes. In the front, description of the program with sixteen dances, being: 5 gangs, 5 polkas, 5 waltzes and the inscription: "Ordre de Danse" in gold. In the center, the date. It has female names written by pencil: E. Bello, Elizena B. Franco and Chiquita Saldanha. On the verse, handwritten: "Arsenio de Niemeyer' Birthday". Metal hook fastens the white pencil with inscription "Carvalhaes & CO" and the cream cord to the carnet.

"There are so many ways of using a fan that one is able to distinguish, at first glance, a princess from a countess and a marquise from a commoner. Indeed, a lady without a fan is like a nobleman without a sword."

Madame de Stäel, a lady of French high society

Two-sided hand fan on paper
Material: Silk, mother of pearl, paper, paint, gilding, assembly, embroidery
Two-sided hand fan on paper. One of the faces represents a genre scene: house, people sitting at the table and carrying fruit baskets in 18th century costumes. On the other side, a house on the edge of a river, on the opposite shore a boatman standing. On the master sticks, on both sides, floral motifs with roses. Margins decorated on both sides with gold. Sixteen mother of pearl sticks cast and painted in gold. Beige silk tassel and metal handle. Mother of pearl buttons.

Fabric hand fan
Origin: France
Material: Wood, cotton, paint, collage, montage, notch, soft varnish
Fabric hand fan, painted with Renaissance palatial scene, in blue and white: in the foreground, two women and a troubadour; in the background, castles. Nineteen varnished wooden sticks in black, with floral motifs. Metal button.

Golden satin hand fan
Author: Lea
Material: Silk, wood, paint, notch
Golden satin hand fan. hand-painted. In the center, cupid and woman among bouquets of flowers and butterflies. In the corners, stylized hearts and around dots and lines. Lighter gold back. Sixteen sticks wavy and carved with floral designs. Master sticks detailed. Metal handle.

Red satin hand fan
Material: Silk, wood, satin, paint, embroidery, collage, notch
Red satin hand fan, hand-painted with bullfighting scene. The clothes of the bullfighters are applied on satin and embroidered with metal threads. Eighteen sticks carved in dark wood, cast and painted in silver and gold. The stick to the right is cut, with image of flower branch, in gold. Turtle button.

Black silk hand fan
Material: Silk, mother of pearl, ivory, paint, embroidery, notch
Black silk hand fan embroidered with silk thread and painted with bouquets of flowers. Sixteen ivory sticks, including the masters, having on the bottom landscape painted with peasant in the center. Master veils contoured by dark wire. Metal handle with mother of pearl buttons.

Nowadays, most fans are made in China, which is where the folding fan was invented

Hand-painted red paper hand fan
Origin: China
Material: Paper, bone, paint, notch, montage, collage
Red paper hand fan, with two faces and hand-painted. In the foreground, children playing with toy horses. Chinese ideograms on black. On the other, pink flowers with foliage and dragonflies. Thirty sticks, including masts, in dark wood. Master sticks with mother of pearl and bone applications: on one side a flower, and on the other a butterfly. Twisted metal handle.

Paper hand fan
Author: Cherice Freres
Origin: Paris, France
Material: Wood, paper, montage, print, collage
Advertising hand fan on printed paper, with country scene of cherry picking. Twelve wooden sticks. Flat sticks, with metal button.

Beige paper hand fan
Material: Paper, wood, print, collage, montage
Beige paper hand fan. At the end of each leaf, dog head in high relief. Eyes and collars decorated with glitter dots. Eleven sticks painted yellow with floral motifs in silver. Metal buttons and handle.

Two-sided paper hand fan
Origin: China
Material: Paper, wood, paint, notch, collage, montage
Two-sided hand fan of paper and sixteen sticks. One face in blue and the other in dark pink. Both with palatial scenes of the Chinese court. Human figures with applications in ivory, silk and retouched with painting. Fourteen cut and hollowed wooden sticks. Master sticks with relief carvings of floral motifs and oriental landscape. Metal handle, mother of pearl button, tassel with pink and beige silk threads.

Hand-painted paper hand fan
Material: Paper, wood, paint, notch, collage, montage
Hand-painted paper hand fan. In the center, large red poppy with shades of yellow and orange, green background. Thirty-two light wooden sticks, including master sticks. The painting lies on paper and sticks. Metal handle and buttons.

Two-sided paper hand fan
Origin: Paris, France
Material: Wood, paper, print, collage, montage
Two-sided fan on printed paper. On one side, in the center, female figure, in the right corner, dog and floral motifs at the extremities. Predominant shades of green and pink. On the other side, garlands of flowers with a central medallion in pink. Twelve wooden sticks, the masters being plain. Button in metal.

Credits: Story

House of the Marquise of Santos/Museum of Brazilian Fashion
Patricia Castro

Anita Mantuano Arts Foundation of Rio de Janeiro State/ Rio de Janeiro State Department of Culture</>
André Lazaroni

Museum Superintendent
Raphael Hallack Fabrino

Clara Paulino
Patricia Castro
Thais Pucu
Ingrid Fiorante

Clara Paulino
Laura Ghelman

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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