Objects of the Museu del Palmito d’Aldaia

Sultán style fan with exposed ribs

Gender and social class

Gender and clothing

Gender and space

 

The fan has moved beyond the social and courtly use of its 16th-century origins to become an everyday object. However, it was intimately linked with a pre-established language. The mourning or widow’s fan had shifted from its flirtatious use to be paired with mourning clothes, both at funerals and during the long periods of mourning kept in Spain in the past, when mourning held sway over life, especially that of women, for an extremely long period of time. In this environment, the woman dressed for mourning, she did herself up for mourning, and all of her outfits and accessories, which included the fan, were adapted for these purposes. In such a context, the fan lost the festive use which had normally been attributed to it.

 

Farm scene

Gender and social class

Motherhood

Family and relationships

The attributes of motherhood in female representations have been found since ancient times in examples such as the so-called Venus figurines of the Palaeolithic Age, the images of breastfeeding goddesses on Greek vases, and in the Byzantine and medieval iconography of the Nursing Madonna. In this case, the breastfeeding scene is depicted with great realism, both the positions of the woman and baby, and how she opens her shirt to offer the breast. The animals that surround the figures, apart from representing real species, may contain symbolism related to the scene: rabbits and hares could be interpreted as symbols of fertility, procreation and fecundity. In 19th-century France, where this fan originates, mothers from the lower social strata breastfed their babies, while the bourgeoisie and higher social classes usually relied on wet nurses.

Women in the fan industry

Sexual division of labour

Gender and clothing

Gender and space

Traditionally, fan workshops were run by men, known as master fanmakers. They were responsible for the financial management of the company and the ribbing process, cutting out, printing and painting the leaf, and the part corresponding to the polishing and final varnish. Women were assigned the more laborious tasks, such as sanding the ribs by hand. In fact, prior to mechanization, women made up the bulk of the employees in the old workshops, although they also performed jobs related to sewing, such as the fabric, lace, sequins, embroidery and decoration, and lastly, assembly and finishing touches on the fan. However, in the final third of the 20th century, the trade of master fanmaker ceased to be the sole province of men. During this period, female master fanmakers began to emerge, business owners with their own workshops and artists responsible for such important aspects as the painting, decoration and lacework.

Bridal fan

Gender roles

Gender and social class

Gender and clothing

It is generally accepted that it was during the Victorian era when white became the colour of wedding dresses and therefore, the moment when women must have begun using a light-coloured fan for her wedding festivities. However, this would not be the case in all social strata. Among the lower classes, young women would continue to wear a dress that was part of the formal trousseau for their married life and it would not be until the early 20th century that the use of white for the woman’s wedding dress became widespread. One object that would form part of the wedding ceremony was the fan, an accessory that would remain a common engagement gift from the 18th to the early 20th century. In many cases, if would depict the faces of the bridge and groom or their initials. In others, fans were part of the trousseau which the woman brought to the marriage.

Fan with Rococo inspired romantic scene

Gender and social class

Gender and clothing

Gender and space

It is not difficult to find a relationship between the motifs we see on this fan and works by established artists in which courtship and the use of the fan by the woman is a common theme. The language of the fan would act as a living language that was expressed at courtly gatherings associated with the outdoors, with natural surroundings, in which we already see the modern woman strolling through a new city. At that time, the city of Valencia was being improved, with the result of promoting leisurely walks and a relaxed atmosphere in which the woman would initiate a game of seduction, with the fan being a crucial element. This would be the source of the revolution that would shortly emerge and give rise to a new woman, key to her idea as an icon of modernity.

One Thousand Faces Public Audience fan

Gender and clothing

Gender and space

Sexual division of labour

Today, we usually associate fans with female attire, but throughout history, especially in Asian cultures, this object has been used by both men and women. We can see this in the depictions on this piece, where both folding (the majority) and round fans are carried by men appearing in the two scenes, as well as the three women shown on the front of the leaf. In China, the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) ushered in the golden age of folding fan production, painting, enjoyment and collecting. They became the favourite object of men of different social classes, with each man possessing one or two. And in the royal court and rich families, they might come to collect dozens or even hundreds of folding fans bearing illustrations and calligraphy. (Chen Ying, 2009).

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