“To give oneself airs”

In French it is written eventail, in Italian ventaglio, in German der fasher, in Spanish el abanico, and in Russian, the one shaped like a fan is called veier and the one shaped like a screen is called opakhalo. What are we talking about…? But of fans, obviously.

Giorgio Perini

Fans have always been part of the origins of Chinese, Egyptian, Indian and Japanese cultures, and each of these countries claims its invention; in reality, refreshing one’s face and chasing away flies is substantially the purpose common to all of these countries.

POSSIBLY, THE FIRST POPULATIONS THAT USED FANS WERE THE ASSAYERS AND EGYPTIANS, AROUND 5000 YEARS AGO, when in Egypt fans were also a symbol of happiness and leisure. An ancient fan, still intact, made out of ostrich feathers, was found in Egypt, precisely in Tutankhamen’s tomb. In Japan, where it has been part of this country’s culture since 3000 B.C., it was and still is a symbol of life that opens up to new experiences, to the awareness of new disciplines and to general knowledge. In ancient Rome fans were often used in the homes of nobility and by rich patricians. They were called flabellum and made of a long handle on which were attached peacock feathers. It has also been a symbol of military power: the one composed of three sticks was used to signal the start of a battle. The splendid Greek and Roman feathered fans were used by maids and eunuchs at the emperor’s service, who were called flambellieri. From this Latin word, flabellum, derives a particular Italian adjective: flabelliforme, whose precise meaning is fan shaped. The word flabellum was also used in liturgical functions and its use lasted in Latin churches until the XIV century. In order to ventilate the celebrant, but also to keep the flies away from the goblet, two deacons had the task of continuously agitating a flabello until the end of the communion.

Its traces were lost until the end of the XV century, when discoveries of new worlds introduced in Spain and in Italy the use of the fan that could be closed. In the XV century it became a fashionable feminine accessory. The greatest production of different varieties of fans, in many forms, materials and colours, amongst the most beautiful and unusual ones, was in the city of Venice, Italy. In the same period, Caterina de Medici, wife of Henry II, took to France a beautiful collection of fans.

FANS WERE USED BY THE GENTEEL DAMSELS AND BY THE LADIES OF ALL THE EUROPEAN COURTS, OTHER THAN TO REFRESH ONESELF, also to communicate different feelings, passions, one’s marital status and many other emotions. The church even banned the fan, because it was considered an “object of seduction”! And a veritable “language of the fan” existed: closed in a woman’s hands, it communicated that it was possible to court her; on the contrary, if it was open it meant that she was married. If held in the left hand, half open, it stated that the woman was a widow, therefore constituted an invitation for possible suitors. Half open, rested on the lady’s bosom, suggested to maintain absolute discretion. Whilst, closed and moved in circular fashion, meant: “Be careful, they can see us, they are spying on us”, or, in fewer words: “careful, my husband is nearby!” These are only some of the messages which could be expressed with the motion of a fan, a simple object, which encompassed many purposes.

Today fans are often added as an accessory by the different maisons de couture during the presentation of the new haute couture collections.

IN PARIS, WE VISITED THE ATELIER OF MADAME HOGUET. For four generations this atelier has created and made fans for the most famous houses of haute couture in the world. Following the footsteps of her father, Hervé Houget, Mme. Hoguet creates new fans of new forms, materials and colours; she also restores prestigious antique pieces. She was named “Maître d’art” in 1994 and is the only person to continue this art and to form new students, other than, obviously, personally taking care of the laboratory of conservation and restoration. The work of creation and restoration of fans often requires multiple artisan abilities. Materials such as parchment, incisions and paintings on paper, embroidered silk and lace, ivory, bone, turtle shell, nacre, horn, wood for the sticks, which are in some cases artistically fretted, painted, ornate with applications of golden leaves and made precious by the setting of gems, require patience and artistic knowledge. Mme. Anne Hoguet learned and elaborated this patient and artistic culture through a rich family tradition.

ON THE 15TH OF OCTOBER 1993, IN STRASBOURG ST. DENIS, MORE PRECISELY IN BOULEVARD DE STRASBOURG N°2, THE “MUSÉE DE L’EVENTAIL” WAS INAUGURATED. It is situated in the exhibition room, created a hundred years earlier by two master artisans. The Museum is adjacent to the laboratory of restorations and it is extremely interesting to visit both areas. In the Museum it is possible to find the “Collection of Hervé Houget”, which consists of more than a thousand magnificent models of fans of the XVIII, XIX and XX centuries. Moreover, temporary exhibitions of fans, part of other private collections, are organised in the Museum. Our tour did not end here, but was enriched by a further prestigious address, located just in front of the Louvre Museum, in the gallery of “Le Louvre des Antiquaires” in Place du Palais Royal n°2.

Here, the very kind and pleasant Madame Lucie Saboudjian gave us the possibility to discover the historical value and culture of fans throughout the centuries. Mme. Saboudjian is one of the greatest experts of the world’s most antique fans. Her knowledge has made her one of the most prestigious figures and her professional and authoritative presence is often requested by the most important and international auction houses.

Two last but not least important addresses not to miss are the boutique “Le Curieux”, owned by the cordial Serge Dovoudian. It is located in the market of Marché aux Puces (flee market), de Saint-Ouen-Marché Biron Stand n°126, and also 30 Rue Gramme, in Paris. •

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