FAN (Lat. vannus; Fr. éventail), in its usually restricted meaning, a light implement used for giving motion to the air in order to produce coolness to the face; the word is, however, also applied to the winnowing fan, for separating chaff from grain, and to various engineering appliances for ventilation, etc. Ventilabrum and flabellum are names under which ecclesiastical fans are mentioned in old inventories. Fans for cooling the face have been in use in hot climates from remote ages. A bas-relief in the British Museum represents Sennacherib with female figures carrying feather fans. They were attributes of royalty along with horse-hair fly-flappers and umbrellas. Examples may be seen in plates of the Egyptian sculptures at Thebes and other places, and also in the ruins of Persepolis. In the museum of Boulak, near Cairo, a wooden fan handle showing holes for feathers is still preserved. It is from the tomb of Amenhotep, of the 18th dynasty, 17th century B.C. In India fans were also attributes of men in authority, and sometimes sacred emblems. A heart-shaped fan, with an ivory handle, of unknown age, and held in great veneration by the Hindus, was given to King Edward VII. when prince of Wales. Large punkahs or screens, moved by a servant who does nothing else, are in common use in hot countries, and particularly India.
Fans were used in the early middle ages to keep flies from the sacred elements during the celebrations of the Christian mysteries. Sometimes they were round, with bells attached - of silver or silver gilt. Notices of such fans in the ancient records of St Paul's, London, Salisbury cathedral and many other churches exist still. For these purposes they are no longer used in the Western church, though they are retained in some Oriental rites. The large feather fans, however, are still carried in the state processions of the supreme pontiff in Rome, though not used during the celebration of the mass. The fan of Queen Theodolinda (7th century) is still preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Monza. Fans made part of the bridal outfit, or mundus muliebris, of Roman ladies.
Folding fans had their origin in Japan, and were imported thence to China. They were in the shape still used - a segment of a circle of paper pasted on a light radiating framework of bamboo, and variously decorated, some in colours, others of white paper on which verses or sentences are written. It is a compliment in China to invite a friend or distinguished guest to write some sentiment on your fan as a memento of any special occasion, and this practice has continued. A fan that has some celebrity in France was presented by the Chinese ambassador to the comtesse de Clauzel at the coronation of Napoleon I. in 1804. When a site was given in 1635, on an artificial island, for the settlement of Portuguese merchants in Nippo in Japan, the space was laid out in the form of a fan as emblematic of an object agreeable for general use. Men and women of every rank both in China and Japan carry fans, even artisans using them with one hand while working with the other. In China they are often made of carved ivory, the sticks being plates very thin and sometimes carved on both sides, the intervals between the carved parts pierced with astonishing delicacy, and the plates held together by a ribbon. The Japanese make the two outer guards of the stick, which cover the others, occasionally of beaten iron, extremely thin and light, damascened with gold and other metals.
Fans were used by Portuguese ladies in the 14th century, and were well known in England before the close of the reign of Richard II. In France the inventory of Charles V. at the end of the 14th century mentions a folding ivory fan. They were brought into general use in that country by Catherine de'Medici, probably from Italy, then in advance of other countries in all matters of personal luxury. The court ladies of Henry VIII.'s reign in England were used to handling fans. A lady in the "Dance of Death" by Holbein holds a fan. Queen Elizabeth is painted with a round feather fan in her portrait at Gorhambury; and as many as twenty-seven are enumerated in her inventory (1606). Coryat, the English traveller, in 1608 describes them as common in Italy. They also became of general use from that time in Spain. In Italy, France and Spain fans had special conventional uses, and various actions in handling them grew into a code of signals, by which ladies were supposed to convey hints or signals to admirers or to rivals in society. A paper in the Spectator humorously proposes to establish a regular drill for these purposes.
The chief seat of the European manufacture of fans during the 17th century was Paris, where the sticks or frames, whether of wood or ivory, were made, and the decorations painted on mounts of very carefully prepared vellum (incorrectly called chicken skin) - a material stronger and tougher than paper, which breaks at the folds. Paris makers exported fans unpainted to Madrid and other Spanish cities, where they were decorated by native artists. Many were exported complete; of old fans called Spanish a great number were in fact made in France. Louis XIV. issued edicts at various times to regulate the manufacture. Besides fans mounted with parchment, Dutch fans of ivory were imported into Paris, and decorated by the heraldic painters in the process called "Vernis Martin," after a famous carriage painter and inventor of colourless lac varnish. Fans of this kind belonging to Queen Victoria and the baroness de Rothschild were exhibited in 1870 at Kensington. A fan of the date of 1660, representing sacred subjects, is attributed to Philippe de Champagne, another to Peter Oliver in England in the 17th century. Cano de Arevalo, a Spanish painter of the 17th century, devoted himself to fan painting. Some harsh expressions of Queen Christina to the young ladies of the French court are said to have caused an increased ostentation in the splendour of their fans, which were set with jewels and mounted in gold. Rosalba Carriera was the name of a fan painter of celebrity in the 17th century. Le Brun and Romanelli were much employed during the same period. Klingstet, a Dutch artist, enjoyed a considerable reputation in the latter part of the 17th and the first thirty years of the 18th century.
The revocation of the edict of Nantes drove many fan-makers out of France to Holland and England. The trade in England was well established under the Stuart sovereigns. Petitions were addressed by the fan-makers to Charles II. against the importation of fans from India, and a duty was levied upon such fans in consequence. This importation of Indian fans, according to Savary, extended also to France. During the reign of Louis XV. carved Indian and China fans displaced to some extent those formerly imported from Italy, which had been painted on swanskin parchment prepared with various perfumes.
During the 18th century all the luxurious ornamentation of the day was bestowed on fans as far as they could display it. The sticks were made of mother-of-pearl or ivory, carved with extraordinary skill in France, Italy, England and other countries. They were painted from designs of Boucher, Watteau, Lancret and other "genre" painters; Hébert, Rau, Chevalier, Jean Boquet, Mme. Vérité, are known as fan-painters. These fashions were followed in most countries of Europe, with certain national differences. Taffeta and silk, as well as fine parchment, were used for the mounts. Little circles of glass were let into the stick to be looked through, and small telescopic glasses were sometimes contrived at the pivot of the stick. They were occasionally mounted with the finest point lace. An interesting fan (belonging to Madame de Thiac in France), the work of Le Flamand, was presented by the municipality of Dieppe to Marie Antoinette on the birth of her son the dauphin. From the time of the Revolution the old luxury expended on fans died out. Fine examples ceased to be exported to England and other countries. The painting on them represented scenes or personages connected with political events. At a later period fan mounts were often prints coloured by hand. The events of the day mark the date of many examples found in modern collections. Among the fan-makers of modern days the names of Alexandre, Duvelleroy, Fayet, Vanier became well known in Paris; and the designs of Charles Conder (1868-1909) have brought his name to the front in this art. Painters of distinction often design and paint the mounts, the best designs being figure subjects. A great impulse was given to the manufacture and painting of fans in England after the exhibition which took place at South Kensington in 1870. Modern collections of fans take their date from the emigration of many noble families from France at the time of the Revolution. Such objects were given as souvenirs, and occasionally sold by families in straitened circumstances. A large number of fans of all sorts, principally those of the 18th century, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, etc., have been bequeathed to the South Kensington (Victoria and Albert) Museum.
The sticks of folding fans are called in French brins, the two outer guards panaches, and the mount feuille.
See also Blondel, Histoire des éventails (1875); Octave Uzanne, L'éventail (1882); and especially G. Wooliscroft Rhead, History of the Fan (1909).
(J. H. P.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)