One Thousand Faces fan (front) (1850/1860) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal
The so-called Mandarin Fans are also known as Canton Fans or One-Thousand-Faces Fans, due to their origin and decorations. They were almost exclusively manufactured for export to the European market through the port of Canton (now Guangzhou).
There are examples of Chinese export fans in Europe by the end of the 17th century but it is only in the mid-19th century that the Mandarin fans became popular among fashionable ladies who appreciated the oriental exoticism depicted on dress, hairstyles, architectures and landscapes. In China fans were used by both men and women.
The term "Mandarin" refers to the Chinese military or civil official. It was first used to describe Chinese pieces by the collector Albert Jacquemart (1808-1875), namely the popular 19th century Chinese export porcelain and ceramics decorated with mandarin figures in panels surrounded with flowers and ornaments.
The term "Mandarin" is now used as a trade term to designate other Chinese export items with similar decoration and influenced by the Chinese porcelain, particularly the "famille-rose" porcelain depicting Chinese figures in various situations, landscapes and interiors.
Mandarin fans are made of guards and sticks lacquered in black, gold or red, carved ivory or sandalwood, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell or enamelled silver filigree. Lacquered wood was one of the most popular materials for guards and sticks. The black lacquered gorge is densely decorated with a golden figurative scene.
There are examples of lacquered objects in China as early as 1600 BC. The lacquer technique uses de resin of the lacquer tree (rhus vernicifera), a natural polymer, to form hard but lightweight coating built in thin layers. With the addition of pigments, most commonly red (mercury sulphide) and black (carbon), it is used for painting and decorating.
In Mandarin fans a polychrome double-sided paper leaf is applied in the monture, painted with strong colours and decorated with Chinese figures in a landscape or architecture, pavilions, palace and court interiors, symbols or flowers.
The scenes are often based on scenes from life at court, popular stories and events, ancient literature and historical events.
The figures have applied faces made of ivory, thus the "one-thousand-faces" name, and the clothes are either painted in detail or made of applied colourful silk clothes.
The scene is usually framed on the edge with symbolic and flower motifs.
Texts: Xénia Flores Ribeiro
Online exhibition: Cândida Caldeira e Xénia Flores Ribeiro