Rococo Fans: Craft, Art, and Hidden Messages

Fan, 4th quarter of the 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.

Before air conditioning, women relied on fans to keep them fresh during the summer. The accessory became so popular during the 18th century that this period is considered the “Golden Age of Fans,” especially in France. These Rococo fans were carefully built by several craftspeople using luxurious materials, such as ivory and nacre. Moreover, they were decorated with historical, domestic, countryside, religious, mythological, and even satirical scenes. Art historians are turning their attention to these exquisite objects to reveal their meaning as social instruments and tools of communication through their painted leaves.

The Golden Age of Fans

Throughout history, many cultures had developed fan-like objects, but it was in East Asia where the fans as we know them originated. They have firstly been brought to Europe by merchants at the end of the 15th century and Catherine de Medici pushed its introduction to the French court. A lot of them were imported, but European manufacturers appeared, too. The French took the lead in 1678 when they created the first corporation of fan makers.

The folding fan, a specific type of fan, was particularly popular. It comprised of a pleated leaf attached to a monture (the fan’s frame) that formed ribs connected at the end with a rivet.

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