History of Fans
From Earliest Times Through Regency Era
Fans had an erratic history as in some eras, their use died away.
In others, fans were resurrected. They were used to keeping flies and insects away or for cooling the face.
- 2nd century BC : The oldest existing Chinese fans are a pair of woven bamboo side-mounted fans.
- 4th century Greece : Fans were in use at least since then.
- In the 6th century : The flabellum, the Christian ceremonial fan, was used during services to keep insects away from consecrated bread and wine.
- In the 13th and 14th centuries : hand fans were brought back by Crusaders from the Middle East.
- In the 15th century : fans were brought to Europe from China and Japan by Portuguese traders.
- Rigid style fans hung from a lady’s skirt but as they were often flimsy, few have survived. In Spain, flamenco dancers used fans and their popularity grew.
- In the 17th century : East Asia’s folding fans were adopted by the nobility and high-born women often had portraits painted holding fans. Folding fans became status symbols on par with elaborate gloves as gifts to royalty.
- The earliest folding fans had leather leaves with cut outs in a lace-like design or a more rigid leaf with inlays of more exotic materials like mica.
- The supports were bone or ivory sticks with leather leaves slotted onto the sticks rather than glued as later folding fans were.
- In the 18th century : Fans were made throughout Europe by specialized craftsmen using silk or parchment and painted by artists, or were imported from China by the East India Companies. Mechanical fans, similar to wind-up clocks, were invented.
- 18th century Late : Political turmoil meant that fans became “less work intensive” and small brise ( painted scenes on individual ivory sticks held together by an interlacing ribbon) fans regained popularity while printed fans of every kind were available to most classes.
In the 19th century : Fashion grew for fans and they became elaborately decorated and varied in materials, shapes, and sizes. Many of the leading Impressionists painted fan leaves, inspired by Japanese art and culture.
Weird and wonderful of Fans:
- Fan language as a way of communicating was a marketing ploy started in the 18th century and carried on by fan makers like Cussons and Sons who, in 1954, produced a series of advertisements showing “the language of the fan”.
- The Japanese used fans as surprise weapons and several types were used by the samurai class of feudal Japan and Kunoichi, female ninja, also used them.
- 1991 The first Fan Museum opened at Greenwich, London, and owns over 4,000 fans, fan leaves and related ephemera
- ” The art of “fluttering”, (fanning one’s self in a graceful, and at times, meaningful way) was said to take three months to master, and many girls doubtlessly spent hours practicing.
If you want to read more about fans, or see more examples through history, go here.
- British Museum
- Staten Island Historical Society
- Fan Association of North America
- The Hand Fan Museum USA
- Place de l’ Eventail
- A Frolic Through Time
- The Fan Museum, Greenwich, UK