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hnd-fan-hist-art - 8/16/07


"A Brief History of the Hand Fan" by Lady Drueta de la Rosa.


NOTE: See also the files: hnd-fan-cnst-art, fans-msg, feathers-msg, umbrellas-msg, gloves-msg, p-espionage-msg, flirting-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



A Brief History of the Hand Fan

by Lady Drueta de la Rosa



Few art forms combine functional, ceremonial and decorative uses as elegantly as the fan.  Fewer still can match such diversity with a history stretching back at least 3,000 years.


Pictorial records of the earliest fans date from around 3000 BC and there is evidence that the Greeks, the Etruscans and Romans all used fans as cooling and ceremonial devices, while Chinese literary sources associate the fan with ancient mythical and historical characters.


Early fans were all of the fixed type, such as the flag fan and the tuft fan.


The first folding fans were inspired by and copied from prototypes brought in to Europe by merchant traders and the religious orders who had set up colonies along the coasts of China and even Japan.  


Catherine de Medici brought the new folding fan or “Duck’s Foot fan” from Italy into France.  These early fans were reserved for Royalty and the nobility and, as expensive toys, they were regarded as a status symbol.  They only opened a quarter of a circle.  Whiles their "montures" (i.e. sticks and guards) were made from materials such as ivory, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell, often carved and pierced and ornamented with silver, gold and precious stones, the leaves were well painted by craftsmen who gradually amalgamated into guilds.


Commenting on the new folding fans, Henri Estienne, who wrote in the late sixteenth century, describes it in the hands of King Henry III, "In his right hand was placed an instrument which extended and folded again with the touch of a finger. We call it here a fan." According to Pierre de l’Etoile, Henry’s fan could be unfurled with a swift motion of the hand and was large enough to shield his delicate complexion from the sun. And now handsome folding fans vied with beautiful feathered fans. The fan was, indeed, the indispensable accessory of every toilet. "So much are they used now," says Henri Estienne, "that once used, they cannot abandon them; but they use them in summer to make air and keep away the heat of the sun, and in winter to keep away the heat of the fire."


The fan was brought into England from Italy during the Renaissance period. Throughout the reigns of Henry VIII, Mary, Elizabeth, and James, the fan maintained its place in fashion. As in France, the most popular fans were the large screen fans of ostrich feathers with carved ivory, gold and silver handles. Queen Elizabeth found particular delight in fans, as she did in gloves, ruffs, and kerchiefs. She is said to have remarked at one time that a fan was the only gift a sovereign should receive from her subjects. She is, consequently, said to have been presented with innumerable fans. Leicester’s New Year’s gift in 1574 is recorded thus:


A fan of white feathers set in a handle of gold garnished on one side with two very fair emeralds, and fully garnished with diamonds and rubies; the other side garnished with rubies and diamonds. . . .


fig 586.gif (39287 bytes)On the Queen's accession, she artlessly let it be known that the most acceptable gift that she could receive from her subjects was a fan--although she did not decline presents of other kinds, The City Fathers did not need a second hint: on every New Year's Day they brought their Royal mistress, with becoming humility, a rich and beautiful fan. In such gifts they wisely did not stint themselves,


fig 587.gif (24137 bytes)In many portraits of the Queen she is seen holding a feather fan in her hand, attached by a narrow ferret or riband to the girdle at her waist. Her wardrobe contained many such fans, and a few are described below. A fan belonging to the Queen in 1577 was of' ‘flowers of sylke of sundry colours, the handill of an inbrawdry worke set with small sede perle.' A fan presented to Her Majesty for a  ‘Newyers-tyde' gift had the handle studded with diamonds, 'A fanne of white feathers, with a handle of gold, having two snakes wyndinge about it, garnished with a ball of diamonds at the ende, and a crowne on each side within a paire of wings garnished .with diamonds' was in the Queen's possession in 1600. 'One fanne of feathers of divers colours, the handle of golde, with a base and a ragged staffe on both sides [obviously a gift from some member of the Dudley family] and a looking glasse on throne side' proves that, contrary to report, Elizabeth actually carried a mirror.  Another example had 'one handle of golde enameled, set with small rubies and emerodes, with a Shipp under saile on throne side.' In the inventory of her wardrobe made in I600~ no fewer than thiry one beautiful fans of great worth are enumerated. Some of these were of feathers and others of the new folding type.


At the end of the 17th century the regulations on the fan guilds were loosened and this released the nobility’s grip on this coveted accessory.  Soon the fan was being imported from China by the East India Trading Companies and again broadened the availability of this accessory.




Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocked

      Janet Arnold

            W.S. Maney & Son Ltd., Great Britain


Accessories of Dress

Katherine Morris Lester and Bess Viola Oerke

            The Manual Arts Press, Peoria Illinois


The Fan Museum

      Greenwich, London



Copyright 2007 by Beth M. Stewart, 402 West Ave., Pitman, NJ 08071. <Drueta at comcast.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org