Monday, May 11, 2009


When I was growing up in Maryland, there were few churches that had air conditioning, and in the summer they would be like walking into an oven. At our little country parish of Saint Ignatius Loyola in Urbana they distributed card board fans adorned with scenes of the Holy Family and the Last Supper. Later, my grandmother gave me an ornate one from Spain and after going to Spain myself I bought another. Ladies in Spain and in the south of France still use fans a great deal, since bistros and cafés can get hot and stuffy when crowded.

In past times, fans were a vital accessory. They often kept ladies from fainting due to their tight corsets and were indispensable in the art of coquetry. Sometimes the ornamentation got out of hand. As the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica says:
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; Hebert, Rau, Chevalier, Jean Boquet, Mme. Verite, 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.
Fans are nice to have on a warm summer evening, sitting on the patio; they help you to create your own breeze while keeping the mosquitoes away. Share


Lucy said...

Hi Elena- I absolutely love fans. I too grew up using fans at church- but not here in Italy, during my summer stays there. All the ladies, and young girls used fans- and they still do today. I noticed this trend in Greece as well. Fans are simply beautiful. I collect them and used to make them for a hobby too(which I'm planning to start up again:) Have a wonderful week:)

elena maria vidal said...

I am not surprised to hear that they still use fans in Italy and Greece! That's wonderful! You have a great week, too, Lucy!

Anonymous said...

During my first pregnancy I felt faint and overheated quite often. My sweet Southern husband suggested that I carry a folding fan in my purse. He had grown up seeing everyone use those cardboard fans at church. I was so grateful he thought of it; it helped a great deal! I still carry one with me all the time. One never knows when one will have a 'spell'. :)

May said...

A fun post. Yes, I think fans should be used more often.

Enbrethiliel said...


My grandmother had fancy fans just for church and a very elegant way of flipping them open and shut. I remember trying to mimic the exact turn of her wrist as a girl.

Since then, many churches have installed electric fans or air conditioning units. They're quite welcome, of course, but not half as charming.