Culture & Art

Apr 1, 2016

Coloured Fans

A way of communication, a useful accessory, a symbol of luxury, elegance, power or a "weapon of seduction", the fan or abano (another word for "fan" in European Portuguese) has over 3000 years of history during which its use and manufacture evolved a lot. Although in disuse in most countries, this romantic and mysterious object remains very recognized in Portugal and Spain.


It was precisely in Madrid, Spain that Your VIP Partner found one of the oldest shops that produces and sells handmade artisanal fans – Casa de Diego - with over 150 years of experience in the sector. But the proof that this object, once very popular in the world, remains alive, is the Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, UK, where this Easter was celebrated with lectures on the recent exhibition, "Treasures of the Fan Museum", and the Art and the Range of Painting.

The manufacturing process is what characterizes Casa de Diego which, since 1958, maintains the manufacture of fans completely handmade, thus ensuring the quality and exclusivity. The fan is composed of two parts, the frame, a hard base with overlapping rods that open and close, and the sheet, made of fabric, paper or lace glued to the base. Flat, adorned, ancient or modern, the manufacturing always follows the same steps: cut, set, sketch, chisel, fitting the pieces, pleated, drawing and painting. However, they can be made of various materials such as ivory, mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, gold, silk, bamboo, wood, feathers, fabrics, painted papers in watercoloured or tempera lithography, etc. The result are scenes that can be mythological, gallant, countryside, historical, poetic, smooth, with feathers or lace, but always a work of art, where painters, calligraphers and poets used to expose their talent.

The materials and decoration are also chosen depending on the purpose. Initially used by slaves to slow down the heat and for sun protection, as well as roasting meats and drive mosquitoes away from kings and courtiers, it was also used by European elites between 1670 and 1930 as a symbol of luxury and elegance. It is in this context that the "fan language" gains strength and becomes a "weapon of seduction", in the nineteenth century. To say, for example: "I love you", the maiden hid her eyes behind the open fan.

The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, India, China, Greece and Rome, used it as a symbol of power, it was even an honour for a servant to "shake the Pharaoh". In the V century. BC, the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans gave it a comprehensive utility and even a loving one, to wag their wife during her sleep was a proof of love. In Europe, the fans trend was introduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, after the colonization of Asia, in particular when they began to establish trade routes with the East, namely Japan. It was in the following centuries that the fans acquired the status of indispensable complement to the feminine vanity, invading halls and arousing passions, finding its golden age in the French courts of kings Louis XIV and Louis XV. In the Sofia Coppola´s film, "Marie Antoinette", played by Kirsten Dunst, we can observe the use given to the fans at that time. For Madame de Stäel, a lady of French society, "a lady without a fan is like a nobleman without a sword."

Due to its proximity to China, Japan also integrated it in the culture and rituals, well represented by the "miyamairi", a ritual where parents take their one-month old baby to a shrine, and use a fan to ask the gods to grant the baby with a healthy growth.

The origin remains mysterious, the mythology says that the first fan comes from Zephyrus' wing, torn by Cupid to wag his loved one Psyché, or Mandarin's daughter, who, while watching the "Festival of Lights", felt sick with the heat and contradicting the time´s traditions, removed the mask that hid her face and wagged herself, being soon imitated by all the present Chinese girls.

In most countries, the use of fans while utilities finished in 1930, remaining alive in Portugal and Spain, where it continues to be an elegant and indispensable accessory. However, China, the birthplace of the articulated fans as we recognise them today, during the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368 a.C.) continues to be the largest producer of this timeless accessory.

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