Fans: Flamboyant Beginnings

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

The Feast of the Gods The Feast of the Gods (circa 1690)The Fan Museum

The Birth of an Industry

Throughout the Courts of Europe the carrying of fans gained momentum in the sixteenth century, bolstered by trade between the Far East and Europe’s various superpowers. Folding fans, probably a Japanese invention, soon became essential costume accessories and symbols of status to both Royalty and aristocracy.

Judgement of Paris Judgement of Paris (1690-1730) by Mariaval le Jeune (sticks)The Fan Museum

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 The Battle of Arbela (1690/1700)The Fan Museum

The Battle of Arbela, 1690/1700

The single vellum leaf is painted on the recto with an adapted version of the Battle of Gaugamela or Arbela after Pietro de Cortona.

Subjects relating to Classical History were popular on fans in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries and referenced the carrier's intellect and cultural refinement.

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.

Entertaining Royals (circa 1680)The Fan Museum


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 Dr Sacheverell - An Emblematic Fan (circa 1710)The Fan Museum

Dr Sacheverell - An Emblematic Fan, circa 1710

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

Dr Sacheverell is seen in the centre of a group of clergymen and nobility while an angel hovers above whilst holding a crown.

Palmette FanThe Fan Museum

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.

Happy Family Happy Family (circa 1670)The Fan Museum

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 Diana and Acteon (circa 1690)The Fan Museum

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 Vulcan's Forge (circa 1700)The Fan Museum

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 The Rape of Europa (circa 1650/60)The Fan Museum

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.

The Kill (Diana and Actaeon) The Kill (Diana and Actaeon) (circa 1680)The Fan Museum


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 The Happy Restoration (circa 1660)The Fan Museum

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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