Fans: Flamboyant Beginnings

The Fan Museum

Discover the history and beauty of mid-seventeenth century to early eighteenth century fans

The Birth of an Industry
Throughout the Courts of Europe the wearing of fans gained momentum during the sixteenth century, bolstered by trade between the Far East and Europe’s various superpowers. Folding fans, probably a Japanese invention, rapidly became essential costume accessories and symbols of status to both Royalty and aristocracy.

Judgement of Paris, 1690-1730

Partly stained green and red, the sticks are decorated with inscriptions such as "j'ai perdu ma liberté; la fuite est vaine; il n'y a place que pour vous" (I have lost my freedom; Escape is futile; There is only a place for you).

The single vellum leaf is painted on the recto with The Judgement of Paris, a contest between three goddesses – Venus, Juno & Minerva. Paris awarded the prize of a golden apple to Venus, who in return gifted him Helen of Troy, wife of the Spartan King Menelaus.

The Battle of Arbela, 1690/1700

The single kid leaf is painted on the recto with a skilfully adapted version of the Battle of Arbela or ‘Alexander versus Darius’ after Pietro de Cortona. Scenes of battle and warfare were among popular subjects on fans during the Seventeenth Century and demonstrate the diversity of themes favoured by fan painters at this time.

Alexander the Great is a figure closely associated with heroism and virtue, a beacon of masculinity to which men throughout history aspired to. One of his greatest admirers was Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) who instructed Court painter Charles Le Brun to make a series of Alexander paintings for the Louvre.

Da Cortona, Pietro (Italian, 1596 - 1669) was a Baroque painter, architect and interior designer. He produced multiple works for the Medici Family and ceiling frescoes for the Palazzo Barberini.

In the capital City of France, fan making began to attain a high degree of perfection under the patronage of Louis XIV of France. His minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert organised the various trades into corporations, each with their specific speciality. The Communauté des Éventailliste (guild of fan makers) was formed in 1678, consolidating France’s position as Europe’s premier fan making hub.

Dr Sacheverell - An Emblematic Fan, circa 1710

The recto carries an emblematic etching satirising the outcome of Henry Sacheverell's impeachment, whose trial took place in 1710 after he gave an controversial sermon in 1709.

Sacheverell is seen in the centre of a group of clergymen and nobility while an angel crowns him with a mitre.

Palmette Fan, circa 1680

A rare palmette-type fan with serpentine ivory sticks, designed to open from left to right or right to left, producing four different perspectives.

The palmettes are made of painted silk backed with card, one side gold and the other silver. The gold side is painted with figures, the silver with fruits, flowers and insects.

The Craft of Fan Making
In France, fan sticks were made by the 'tabletiers', many of whom set up workshops in the Oise department, not too far from the City of Paris. Fan painting, assembly and retailing came under the jurisdiction of the 'Éventailliste'. Fan painters who belonged to the guild were not permitted to make and sell works in any form other than fan paintings.

Diana and Acteon, circa 1690

While the goddess Diana is bathing in the forest, she is approached by Actaeon. Startled, she douses him with water at which point he transmorphs into a deer before being killed by his own dogs who did not recognise him.

Vulcan's Forge, circa 1700

The single vellum leaf is painted on the recto with Vulcan at his forge with attendants shaping a shield, observed by Venus and putti.

The Rape of Europa, circa 1650/60

The single vellum leaf is painted on the recto with the story of Europa seduced by Jupiter, who made his approach disguised as a bull while she was gathering flowers with her attendants.

The Baroque borders painted in gold are particular noteworthy, with richly painted drapery and masks at the top.

Following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) the French Huguenot fan makers fled France for England, and set up their workshops in and around the City Walls. In the following century The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers received its Charter in 1709, and so began a golden age of English fan making.

The Happy Restoration, circa 1660

The paper leaf is decorated with a woodcut print of oak leaves, acorns, orbs, crowns and the words ‘The Hapy Restoration’ running in and out of the main design.

The fan commemorates the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England in 1660.

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