Origin, language and type.
The fan is a manual utensil used to keep cool on hot days by moving the air, but this has not always been its function.
Origin of the fan
The history of the fan is almost as long and ancient as the existence of mankind. Its origin is not known exactly, but it is believed to have existed in prehistoric times. Probably in the form of large plant leaves. Throughout the centuries, a multitude of countries and civilizations have used it. Many of them are known to us thanks to archaeological remains, paintings and ancient engravings.
1- Ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, at the time of the pharaohs, it was not seen as a mere accessory to traditional dress. The fan was considered a symbol of high social status and especially of people with great power. Its use was restricted to almost everyone except the pharaoh. And it was also allowed to his wives, children and immediate family only on special occasions.
2- Classical Greece
In ancient Greece, the priestesses waved huge fans over the sacred food to keep it in good conditions for a longer time. They were elaborated with feathers, flabelos and plumes. This procedure would be adopted centuries later by the Romans and, in the same way, imitated by the Christians.
3- Roman Empire
Caesar Augustus, emperor of the Roman Empire, had a large group of slaves who always preceded him wherever he went, equipped with large fans to suffocate the heat and scare the insects away from their leader. Likewise, the Roman matrons had at their disposal eunuch slaves whose main function was to fan them in the Gynaecium. According to the great Greek poet Euripides, in his play Helen, he already describes this fact in classical Greece.
4- Ancient Japan
The Nipponese used the fan to greet, and on it they placed gifts they gave to their relatives and acquaintances. The best pupils of the schools were rewarded with a beautifully decorated fan.
If they had to attend shows, dances or any social event, they did not go without it. It was so important that Japanese women felt practically naked if they did not have their fans with them. Even prisoners condemned to death, before their execution, received one.
5- Millenary China
Hundreds of years ago, in China, both women and men used the fan. It was a very refined society, and carrying a small case with a fan inside was a sign of distinction and authority. When they visited the homes of relatives or friends, they always carried it with them. It was also common for them to decorate their fans by writing their thoughts and ideas on them.
6- Medieval Europe
In the Europe of the Middle Ages, in court circles, there were large fans made with gold handles and peacock and pheasant feathers. Already in the 15th century, the Portuguese introduced a variant: the folding fan from China. But this type of fan was not only used in Western and Chinese civilizations, but also in the Americas.
7- New World
When the conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico at the beginning of the 16th century, the emperor of the Aztec Empire Moctezuma gave him a gift of great value. It was nothing more than 6 fans decorated with abundant feathers. On the other hand, in Peru, the Incas had the fans so introduced in their society that they were part of many offerings made to their gods.
Fans, during the Renaissance, not only did not fall into disuse, but became even more popular. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries their use was common and indispensable. Queen Elizabeth I of England indoctrinated her maidens. She said: «A queen can only accept one gift: the fan». The so-called «Virgin Queen» always carried a fan hanging from a gold chain at her waist.
9- Modern Age
During this period, Louis XIV of France and Catherine de Medici, who were great fans, said: «Neither courtship nor love is conceivable without their presence». So great was the fondness of the royal houses for this gadget, that Queen Louise of Sweden created in 1774 the Royal Order of the Fan. Distinction that, naturally, granted to her most distinguished friends.
Among many of its rules, it was forbidden to keep it open in the presence of the queen except to offer her gifts on its rods. The eighteenth century was undoubtedly the time when it had the greatest presence among the bourgeoisie. The courtesan Ninon de Lenclos was very popular because she had her fans painted and decorated in many different ways. The Marquise de Pompadour gave her name to a wide variety of fans that were painted with multiple motifs. In the same way, Queen Marie Antoinette was in the habit of giving her closest friends very elaborate fans.
10- French Revolution
Because it became a symbol of the nobility and high bourgeoisie, the French Revolution tried to ignore it and considered it as something decadent from a regrettable past. But the fan was so deeply rooted that they had to give it a «revolutionary use». To this end, models were made that, when folded, took the shape of a rifle. Of course, they were decorated with the colors of the French flag (red, blue and white).
Language of the fans
It is very possible that you have heard something about the «secret» language of the fans. It is nothing more than a language that ladies used to communicate with a gentleman in a discreet way. It is a very broad language and varies depending on the country and the time. But to give you an idea, here are some examples:
- Fanning oneself slowly means lack of interest or indifference towards the gallant.
- Resting the lips on the edge of the fan translates as distrust or disbelief.
- Brushing the hair away from the forehead with it means «don’t forget me».
- Gently running the index finger along the edge of the sticks is the same as saying «we need to talk».
In the 18th century, Jules Janin, a well-known French writer, stunned by the many possibilities of a fan in a woman’s hands, wrote:
«Ladies use the fan for everything. They hide their smile or blush behind their fan. They caress its delicate breast to hint to their conqueror what they treasure. They use it to hide their hands or their shyness. They are indispensable in a lady’s attire. With it one can begin or end a courtship story.»
A self-respecting and self-respecting lady would never wear the same fan twice to a party or ball. As a curiosity, when Queen Isabella of Farnese died, it was discovered that she had a collection of more than five thousand fans.
Types of fans
The diversity of fans, historically, was almost always at the expense of the whims of fashion. There have been fans of all types and conditions. Also for an infinite number of uses that today may seem surprising to us.
1- Luxury fans
The most expensive and luxurious fans lacked fabric or paper. Their rods were very wide and were made entirely of fine woods, tortoiseshell or ivory. They were called reversible or deck fans, as they could be unfolded from either the left or the right. They were very elaborated fans, normally with 4 countries and decorated with different motifs that produced a peculiar effect on the people who looked at it in movement.
If they were given as a gift, they were usually engraved with an engraving that alluded to the reason for the gift. For example, the name of the bride and groom if it was for a wedding, or a family coat of arms. The shapes were varied depending on the ingenuity and inventiveness of the designer.
2- Violin fans
Violin fans were created in the 19th century. They were so called because when they were closed they were reminiscent of the shape of the first violins in history. As a general rule, they were very prestigious fans, topped and decorated with silver and gold sequins, the occasional mirror and swan feathers.
3- Fans to see the bulls (Spain)
Although you may find it curious, there were fans designed exclusively to go to the bullrings. They were very large, a rod and a half high. This was so that the people who watched this event from the stands where the sun was shining, could shade themselves as a small parasol.
4- Fans of scent
The London house Kimmel invented the scent fans. With the movement of the device they gave off a pleasant and rich smell. This was achieved by impregnating the sticks with a perfume using a sophisticated technique. The objective was that the pleasant smell would last as long as the fan. Normally, the rods were decorated with drawings of the plants or flowers that had been used to make the perfume that was given off.
5- Advertising fan
Among the folding fans, during the 19th century the so-called magic fan stood out. It was so called because on one side two different images could be seen, and only one on the other. At the beginning of the 20th century, their manufacture became so cheap that they began to be given away as advertising. They were also used to show the programs of the theater, dance or circus and to give them as gifts to their assistants.
6- Mask fans
During the 19th century, in Venice, masked fans became popular, which were used to attend the masked balls held during the famous Carnival. One of the models that people liked the most were the ones with glasses, since with them it was possible to observe someone without being discovered. But their use declined because they were no longer fashionable and not because of the comments of moralists.