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The fan, originally designed as a cooling device, was elevated in modern times to a symbol of dignity. Over time, it became a very fashionable element of female attire. On the other hand, fan gestures became a conventional code used by men and women to communicate and flirt at the court.

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The fan, originally designed as a cooling device, was elevated in modern times to a symbol of dignity. Over time, it became a very fashionable element of female attire. On the other hand, fan gestures became a conventional code used by men and women to communicate and flirt at the court.
Since the 17th century it was mainly produced in France. During the rococo period, when they enjoyed their greatest popularity, fans were ornamented with extraordinarily rich and intricate forms, with the decorations being sometimes created by the most famous court painters.
The object on display is a folding fan attached to a radial frame made from whalebone. Bone slats are carved in an openwork fashion and after unfolding they form one piece depicting putti playing surrounded by a rocaille ornament against a checked background and rococo cartouches with instruments and fruit painted in decorative boxes. The frame is polychrome, whereas the outline of the ornament is gilded. The upper part is made of a piece of paper, which is a section of a circle folded into segments. When unfolded, it shows a pastoral scene with courtiers, a shepherdess and sheep, all resting in the shade of trees. The scene is rimmed with a border made of rocaille and flowers.
Idyllic and pastoral scenes, portrayed as love antics, were characteristic of the French rococo period. They served as themes in painting and as a decoration of various everyday objects. Their lightness, elusiveness, frivolity and tendency toward lush decorations were a reflection of the taste and worldview of the 1st half of the 18th century.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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A school for female schemers

The 18th century, called the century of women, was the age of sophisticated social games. What item was better suited to flirting than an amusing, coquettish fan? Thus, a secret “language of fans” was created, one to be mastered by every young woman with ballroom ambitions.

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The 18th century, called the century of women, was the age of sophisticated social games. What item was better suited to flirting than an amusing, coquettish fan? Thus, a secret “language of fans” was created, one to be mastered by every young woman with ballroom ambitions.
In 1711, the English writer Joseph Addison published a satire about the Fan Academy in the journal The Spectator, in which he openly said that a woman without a fan is like a man without a skewer. In the ballrooms, the „whispers of fans, the rustle of fans and disputes of fans” were to be heard everywhere. Often it was so complicated that well-born ladies were offered help in mastering this difficult art.
Therefore, in 1774 the Queen of Sweden, Luiza Mirck, established the Order of the Fan, in which the most eminent ladies were to learn and guard the secrets of this unusual female weapon that would enable them to flirt with lovers and imperceptibly seduce other men in front of their spouses. The item itself was excellent for this type of social game. The secret lay in the method of movement. The fan revealed the social status of the person who used it, and arranging it in a particular manner served to express intentions and feelings. Love confessions or details of meeting places were written on it, thereby acting as an intermediary between lovers.
The French writer and observer of ballroom lifestyle Madame de Staël (1766–1817) claimed that by wielding and playing with the fan, the sophistication of ladies is appreciated and if beautiful and chic women were not able to hold it gracefully and elegantly, they let themselves in for tremendous ridicule.
At the end of the 18th century, a new type of fan appeared – a “conversational” one. Popular especially in Italy, France, England and Spain, it was used until the 20th century. By revealing the appropriate sequence of numbers hidden in the landscape, dialogues were created. Some conversational fans contained symbolic pictures that formed well-thought-out allusions. In 1795 in Paris, the telegraph fan started to be used, concealing characters which were then orchestrated into words.

In Spain, especially in Andalusia, at the turn of the 18th century, a universal “fan language” was also created. In the Spanish variant, the abanico movement (from the Spanish word for “fan”) transformed into a complicated language, full of passion and allusions, in which lovers could express their anger, promises and longing. It was based on the correct arrangement of the fan in four directions, with five different variants. One alphabetic character was assigned to the abanico movement.
In Poland, the first mentions of the language of fans appeared in 1823 in Kurier dla Płci Pięknej [The Courier for the Fair Sex], where it was written that the only possibility for a woman to acquaint herself with an admirer without compromising her reputation was to use the „fan language”. In turn, in a passage from “Sir Thaddeus” we read that Telimena...
„[...] in her hands she twirled a fan for mere pastime,
for it was not hot; the gilded fan
as it waved spread around it a torrential rain of sparks.”
With the advent of World War I, the role of women and the prevailing customs changed. Women preferred to fight for their rights, rather than „to devise schemes hidden behind feather constructions”.
... the lady unexpectedly appeared on the balcony in the great ballroom and, fanning her face steadily, she said: „I will come soon ...” Suddenly, misled by a premonition, she touched a tortoiseshell gem with her left hand ... We are being watched... Unable to withstand the uncertainty, she closed her fan, presenting it so that the lover enjoying himself in the room noticed ... she asked uncertainly: Do you love me? Without receiving a reply, she closed and opened the fan nervously, conveying to the wooer: You are cruel! Not having achieved the desired effect, she changed her tactic ... with very slow fan movements she showed: You are indifferent to me. The man still did not answer her efforts, so she made the last desperate attempt ... she began to open the fan with her left hand, expecting that he would understand the meaning of the gesture: he would come and talk to her ... she had waited for so long... However, after a while, when her chosen one had not moved, had not even favoured her with a glance, she ostentatiously threw her fan behind her, shouting inwardly: I hate you! She went out, escorted by the compassionate glances of women and surprised ones of men, leaning on the shoulder of her unsuspecting husband...

Elaborated by: Kinga Śliwa (Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

References:
Sławomir Kosieliński, Spojrzenie zza wachlarza, „Wiedza i Życie”, vol. 1 (1997);
Stanisław Gieżyński, Wachlarz — kobiece berło (2010): www.weranda.pl.

See the 18th-century women’s fan in the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.
Read about the history of the fan.

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A story told in a whisper of fans...

How many exotic lands should we visit to follow their trail throughout centuries of history? How much of human history is hidden inside this apparently completely innocuous and frivolous object?

 

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How many exotic lands should we visit to follow their trail throughout centuries of history? How much of human history is hidden inside this apparently completely innocuous and frivolous object?
The earliest fans date back to the days of the ancient Egypt, where they were initially reserved for pharaohs and priests. Fans played a significant role in the ceremonies of the court; they were a sign of power to be carried behind the pharaoh in processions. To have a fan held for you indicated a high position in the state hierarchy. Large fans of leaves or feathers, mounted on long handles, sometimes bent at a right angle at the base of the plume were used. Fans also accompanied the deceased in their post-mortem journey. Two handles of fans found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, now located in the museum in Cairo, made from ivory and gold (with visible depictions of scarabs) indicate an accomplished artistic level that the Egyptians achieved in the creation of such items.
In Greece, fans borrowed from the Egyptians were originally made from leaves mounted on a long handle. They were used by both men and women, but due to their large size, were carried by slaves. Their form began to change in the 4th century BC when their size was reduced and they became more compact so that they could be carried alone. Other materials began to be used in their production: thin boards, fabrics and leather stretched on a frame. In the Hellenist period, feather fans were also made and magical properties were often attributed to them. The most common form was the semicircular fan, which was reflected in the decoration of Greek ceramics.
The Romans invented their own type of a fan called musicarum (Latin musicas – a fly) which was used to flick insects away. Around the 4th century BC, small fans resembling simple flags appeared.
While following the trail of the fan, we cannot forget about imperial China and the Land of the Rising Sun where this object was created in an extremely beautiful form and played an important role in a daily life of the court and its inhabitants.
One of the Chinese legends concerning the creation of a fan refers to the beautiful daughter of the mandarin Kan-Si, who, during the Torch Holiday, started to fan herself with a mask very quickly, hoping to cool her face hidden behind the mask. She was followed by the other 10,000 ladies who were also tired of the heat. Thanks to this, their faces remained in hiding and there was pleasant coolness all around...
At the imperial court and in the hierarchy of state officials, stringent rules on the use of fans were applied. However, if a person abode by these rules, the fan became a useful tool to evade etiquette. One could avoid endless ceremonial bows by hiding their faces behind a fan. Another practical use of a fan, probably pretty amazing to the youth, was using it to discipline students at schools. There were also “war fans“ made of metal, designed for soldiers as well as large decorative ceremonial and presentable fans used, for example, during parades or processions.
Fans were made of paper, silk, feathers, wood, palm leaves, and ivory, as well as white nephrite which was especially valued in China. The handles of precious specimens were created from silver, gold or mother-of-pearl. Colours were often monochromatic, and the decorations were derived from the art of calligraphy. In China, India, and Mesopotamia fan feathers were impregnated with fragrant oils so that a pleasant scent emanated from them every time they moved. A significant development in the field of this artistic craftsmanship occurred after the form of a folding fan was adopted from Japan.
In Japan, this form was invented around the 7th century. It was accompanied by a legend which told about a married couple into whose flat a bat flew at night. An observation of the animal’s wings made when it was taken out of the house contributed to the invention of the folding fan. The oldest forms of this were named Komori (bat in Japanese). Fans arrived to Japan from Korea. The material they were made from indicated the social and property status of their owners. Different fan forms were associated with different purposes. Materials similar to those used in China were used, but fan decorations were further developed by introducing ink drawings and woodcut reproductions, as well as the inscribing of short poems. Fans were also covered with scenes from court life, and picturesque landscapes or calligraphy. It was also possible to purchase an undecorated fan and to decorate it on one’s own.
In China and Japan, the most popular fan was the Brise folding fan. Their frames were uniquely charming, due to their floral, landscape, and architectural, as well as anthropomorphic ornamentation, which was intricately carved. Another fan form, which was developed by Japanese culture, was the pleated fan. The demand for fans was huge, so small factories, often with a high degree of specialisation, were established. The technology of production changed and improved; fan painting schools were opened, and various decoration techniques were introduced (including incrustation and openwork patterns). Considered to be everyday objects, they were regarded as an inseparable attribute of, for example, a samurai costume. They also played an important role in Japanese theatre.
The folding fan didn’t reach Europe until as late as the 17th century; earlier, around the 15th century, they appeared in the East. Fans spread across European courts thanks to Portuguese sailors. Before that, European women had used small flags or fans of bird feathers. Fan fashion reached all social classes, so production facilities began to be established. The best-known production centres were located in Italy. In Milan, Genoa and Siena, fans were made of bird feathers (fans made of long-tail parrot feathers were a novelty). Their handles were made from precious materials such as ivory, gold, and silver, as well as precious stones. In order to secure the fan to a dress, a chain or a ribbon was attached to it. Flag-fans used by wealthy women were manufactured in Venice. Those decorated with Venetian lace and made of white vellum were intended for young betrothed girls. In Naples and Bologna, there were popular screen fans with geometric decorations.
One of the most beautiful collections of fans was owned by Elizabeth I, the Queen of England. She used to say that this was the only object that could be given to her by her subjects. However, it was the 18th century which became known as the golden age of fans.
This practical, fetching and entertaining item quickly became an irreplaceable and ever-present accessory of every elegant lady. French Rococo introduced a fashion for meticulously crafted fans; ivory became very popular. Themes were derived from Italian comedies; pastoral, love, and hunting scenes, as well as depictions of landscapes and portraits. Eighteenth-century fans were true works of art. Made of paper, thin leather, tortoiseshell, ivory, and mother of pearl; they were carved and lacquer painted – they were an elegant complement to the wardrobe of that time. The most common decorations were landscape, genre, and mythological scenes, and sometimes erotic scenes. The Marquise de Pompadour ordered her fans from the most famous painters of the era. In social life, a domino-type fan was useful, with cut-out holes through which a lady could observe the surroundings, while remaining unseen. Lenses could also be fitted in a fan, which served as glasses in a very elegant setting; such fans were used by Marie Antoinette.
A fan could enable one to escape difficult situations. During an audience with Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, an embarrassing incident occurred. The queen, known for her passion for fashion, noticed an extremely charming bracelet on the hand of one of the ladies, the German Baroness d’Oberkirch. So she asked the Baroness to show her the trinket. However, according to the Versailles etiquette, the Queen could not be given an object in a public place with a bare hand not wearing a glove. Therefore, the Baroness took off the bracelet and put it on her spread fan. With this manner of handing the jewellery, etiquette was observed, and the queen was delighted.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, fans of the aide-mémoire type could be seen, reminding people of the words of popular songs, dances or game rules. During the French Revolution, prints on fans made comment on current political events.
In the 19th century, delicate lace fans were intended for young girls, whereas dignified ladies had a liking for elegant fans made from feathers, matching the colour of their dresses. Scenes depicting an elegant group during a game and a walk, known from paintings by Fragonard, Boucher, and Watteau, became a popular decoration. Interestingly, a famous Polish painter of horses, Wojciech Kossak, also decorated fans: A knight paying homage to the queen, Yankel’s polonaise and concert, A wedding in Kraków.
The 20th century saw a decline in the popularity of the fan; after World War I only old ladies who remembered the days of splendour of the fan and their own experiences could not be parted from this sophisticated object.
Today’s fans, enclosed in museum showcases, still enchant with their unique charm, and  visitors continue to fall into a reverie over the ephemeral beauty of bygone eras.

Sources:
Porozmawiajmy: o wachlarzach, cz. 1
Porozmawiajmy: o wachlarzach, cz. 2

Elaborated by Kinga Śliwa (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also: Woman’s fan

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Ornamental subtexts

One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal Małopolska’s Virtual Museums is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Kraków), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

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One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal Małopolska’s Virtual Museums is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Kraków), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

All presented objects, seemingly diverse, with a different purpose, being results of the work of manufacturers from different cultures, different types of crafts and artistic periods, are united by one thing: their own ornamentation.
The tendency to decorate, results from the inner need of a human being to aestheticize the surrounding space and the elements organizing it. The motifs and their sets, characteristic for particular periods of history — which created the ornament and thus a certain decorative form — covered and organized the surface of the works. We encounter ornaments in all fields of arts and crafts. It is an inseparable component of a work, even if it does not appear physically, it reflects conscious non-use: an absence. The relationship of an ornament to an object used to vary; it was an accompanying form, its decoration; it could determine the divisions of planes, but, over time, it distinguished itself and assumed the primary role. Treated autonomously, it created forms which constituted artworks in themselves. However, its relation to the surface vacillated from horror vacui to amor vacui, down to complete cleansing. Ornamental forms had their origins in nature, or they were treated as the main source of inspiration, hence the distinction between geometric, vegetal, and animal ornamentation. Its gradual transformation was aimed at achieving an abstract shape, which was, however, still intuitively rooted in reality, or was rather transformed reality:  a set of familiar elements combined in fanciful forms with a surprising relationship to each other.
Distinguishing its character, its accompanying motives and inspirations — including its essence — allows one to get a lot of information about the work itself. This can be done on many levels. A non-accidental juxtaposition of seemingly different objects in a single presentation — in each case adorned with ornamentation — opens up a new field for their interpretation and finding correlations between them.
The desirability of decoration is visible in each of the objects presented — whether in the works of “highbrow”, professional, or folk art — there is an evident need of the conscious or often intuitive use of sometimes very naive ornamental forms, which marked divisions contouring the shape of the object and filling its surface (see: Powder cone, Painted wooden chest with a drawer, Sculpture “Mother of God of Skępe”).
The variety of forms of decoration and ornamentation that has appeared on works from particular cultural circles has been conditioned by many factors. Undoubtedly, the most important was the fashion prevailing at that time, which specified the formal repertoire used, or access to sources of inspiration. However, in most cultures — especially eastern ones — there was a dominant tendency to draw inspiration from nature, which formed the basis for shaping ornamentation in multiple versions (cf. Enamelled vase, Besamin tower box from Vienna, Jewel box, A dyeing template). The ban on figurative art—particularly in Islamic and Jewish culture—led to developing ornamentation as the only acceptable form of art which fully utilized the repertoire of plant and geometrical forms.
The intended purpose of these objects, differing from one another to an extreme extent, allows one to notice that the ornamentation decorating them is not dependent on their function. An ornament is non-political and non-ideological; hence, it was possible to use the same motif on everyday objects and objects of worship (see: Armchair with handrails, Mug with a cover, Chalice). The situation was similar in the case of particular fields of craft, characterized by different techniques, where, regardless of their variety and degree of difficulty, the same ornamental forms appeared. Thus, the quintessence of the ornament is the manipulation of its form. And yet this form itself was specific to the era in which it crystallized. An example of this can be rocaille, containing in its shape, elements and behaviour, epithets corresponding to the Rococo period (see: A woman’s fan). A somewhat different usage and problem, however, was posed by the fact the decoration could take the form of representation, and thus carry specific information, often referring to the purpose of the work or its founder (see: Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, Baroque chasuble).
Many kinds of contextual trails—which combine different objects on different levels—can be created. Despite their otherness, we can find many correlational factors among them. We encourage you to look for your own links between the objects presented and the function of the ornaments and decorations, which allow you to see the work from a different perspective: both formal and interpretive.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Woman’s fan

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