Packed away in the attics of Scotney Castle is a treasure trove of colourful fans. The collection consists of an eclectic mix of folding fans, some with finely carved ivory handles, whilst others depict Romantic scenes from popular literature of the time. They are rich in symbolism and are of great historical significance.
Large feather fan from Scotney Castle’s ‘hidden collection’
Japan and China are often credited with the creation of the folding fan. One historian claims that ‘[t]he earliest representation of the folding fan—the fan proper—is found in the hands of the Japanese god of happiness’. In Japan, many believe that the structure of the fan was based on the construction of a bat’s wings. In China, the folding fan is thought to have derived from observing women fanning their faces with their hands to cool themselves. Whatever the case, folding fans were introduced to Europe in the sixteenth-century via the Portuguese through their strong trade links with China.
In Elizabethan times, fans were used as a symbol for exotic style and a representation of wealth. A list of presents presented to the queen includes a heavily embellished fan from the Countess of Bath:
|‘By the Countesse of Bath, a fanne of swanne downe, with a maze of greene velvet, ymbrodered with seed pearles and a very small chayne of silver gilte, and in the middest a border on both sides of seed pearles, sparks of rubyes and emerods, and thereon a monster of gold, the head and breast mother-of-pearles; and a skarfe of white stitche cloth florished with Venis gold, silver, and carnacion silke.’
The craftsmanship that went into making this particular fan, the rubies, pearls and emeralds hint at the value such items were given. Elizabeth I was often painted with fans, and although mostly feathered, she was also depicted with folding fans. For example, Marcus the Younger’s portrait of the Queen, painted in 1592, depicts Elizabeth in an immaculate white outfit, standing on a map or globe of the world, clutching a closed fan. Large pearls line the edging of the fan and a complex pattern painted on the fan’s leaves is suggested through a series of delicate brush marks. In an age where symbolism played a huge part in the presentation of oneself, the eye is drawn to the closed fan in this piece, suggesting a far-reaching and cultured queen, and by extension England.
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636), Queen Elizabeth I (‘The Ditchley portrait’), 1592 (95 x 60in)
The purpose and symbolism of fans has fluctuated over the centuries. Indeed, fans could be used as a form of art. The Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) decorated fans with the intention that they be mounted and displayed in rooms. Degas was inspired by the Japanese style and started painting silk fans in the 1870s.
 They had no ‘practical’ use and their design created an atmosphere of night-time at the theatre. The warmth of these creations, in particular Fan: Dancers and the Stage Scenery (1878-1880), alludes to the flirtatious nature of fans and the sensuous atmosphere it creates. Degas used his fan work as a means of experimenting with composition, colour and surface. As a decorative object, fans were a unique way to explore materials and styles from a unique, artistic standpoint.
Chinese inspired fan from Scotney Castle’s ‘hidden collection’
Even before Degas’s experimentation in the late nineteenth century, French fans created in the reign of Louis XV (1710-1774), were exploring other decorative ideas. For example small hand-screens, created by famous French fan-makers of the time, made humorous animated fans that moved certain figures when a wire was pulled. One such creation shows a musician playing the cello vigorously whilst rolling his eyes and another has a danseuse doing the high-land fling. It shows a progression from the fan’s initial formation as a means to cool oneself, to a more fashionable and decorative object. Of course, fans were still in use during this time for their original purpose, with the contemporary essayist Joseph Addison describing the sometimes humorous use of fans in an article published in The Spectator:
‘[T]he angry flutter, the modish flutter, the timorous flutter, the confused flutter, the merry flutter, the amorous flutter… I have seen a fan so very angry that it would have been dangerous for the absent lover who provoked it to come within the wind of it’.
Fan dating back to 1743 from Scotney Castle’s’hidden collection’
Fans could be used as a means of expressing oneself in an age where women were, to a large extent, seen and not heard. Women’s fashion often determined the size and style of folding fans. At the start of the nineteenth century, the fashion for ‘simplicity’ meant as dresses got slimmer so too did its pockets. Fans were adapted to fit the fashions of the time and were made smaller or larger accordingly. Fans by this period were primarily regarded as a fashion accessory and were made from delicate materials such as silk, ivory, sequins or tortoiseshell.
Ivory handled fan from Scotney Castle’s ‘hidden collection’
Fans could be used for a variety of reasons, for example fashionable, political or social, and could provide women with a communicative outlet otherwise denied to them. Scotney’s collection of fans most likely belongs to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where Romantic scenes were a common choice of decoration. They are a fascinating find and an important addition in piecing together Scotney’s social history. Come and see our display case, located in the Dining Room, to see first-hand a sample of our fan collection!
 L. Parr, ‘History of the Fan’, Victorian Magazine: Fashion and Accessories (2016) http://www.victoriana.com/Fans/historyofthefan.html
 A. Geczy, Fashion and Orientalism: Dress, textiles and culture from the 17th century to the 21st century (London, 2013) p.52
 J. Nichols, New Year’s Gifts Presented to the Queen 1588-9 (New York, 1823) p.4
 M. Gerstein, ‘Degas’ Fans’, The Art Bulletin (March. 1982) p.105
 E. Barber, ‘Antique Fans’ Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum (Jul. 1905) p.50 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3793688?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=hand&searchText=held&searchText=fans&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicResults%3FQuery%3Dhand%2Bheld%2Bfans%26amp%3Bacc%3Doff%26amp%3Bwc%3Don%26amp%3Bfc%3Doff%26amp%3Bgroup%3Dnone%26amp%3Bsi%3D26&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents
 J. Addison, ‘The Exercise of the Fan’, The Spectator, no.102 (London, 1711)
 Some fans are even recorded as being no longer than the palm of a person’s palm.