Tag Archives: Accessories

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 2

Earlier last week I posted pics of 18th century fans, circa 1750 to be precise, from France and the Netherlands. After a few days lolling around Sarasota and wondering whether a series of postings to a) show additional pics of their C18-19 fan collection and b) extend my current Water for Elephants/Ringling Circus preoccupation would be appropriate for a site mostly devoted to Georgian England and Revolutionary France tidbits, I’ve decided that a week’s deviation from the usual topic might just be diverting.  You agree?  Good.  If not, I’ll see you next week!

The Fans

The left fan I must not have thought much of while at the museum because I have no picture of it in my possession.  Oops! The middle fan (2) caught my eye right away.

It’s of Napoleon and Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma and Napoleon’s second wife.  The fan is circa 1810, made just prior to her becoming Empress in 1811.  I wonder if they were all the rage to carry or more of a promotional campaign on the Empire’s part?  My French isn’t exactly amazing; otherwise I would take the pains to translate the inscription on either side of the fans.  My guess without translation is that the fan commemorates the uniting of two empires, namely the French and the Austrian-Habsburg.  Oh, well look at that little bit of irony!  Vive la révolution!

 I find this fan visually pretty in a pale, ephemeral sort of way.  It’s the color of tea-stained rags with hints of relief in white and dove gray.  The scene presented to us is a wine festival with musicians and dancers, families and couples, all enjoying an evening out.  Odd color scheme for for what’s being staged, but it is an old fan dating to 1710.  It’s also Italian.  As with many fine fans, the paper is vellum and the sticks are ivory.  This contrasts with the Napoleon and Marie Louise fan whose sticks are wood.

The last fan in the bunch is another French one from 1750.  It’s typical of the period, ivory sticks, watercolor on paper leaf, and a tranquil peasant scene.

 The Making of Fans from the Ringling Museum

“The main components of a folding fan consist of two end sticks, called guards sticks, that protect the painted leaf within.  Typically, the painting was done in watercolor after which the shaped leaf was carefully scored and pleated, allowing the fan to unfold as it was opened.  The interior sticks and spine supporting the fans leaf,  made of materials as varied as elephant ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, exotics woods or bone, are joined at the base of the sticks with a single rivet.  The most expensive examples would then have gold or silver leaf applied to the carved decoration.  Handmade paper, woven silk, and vellum were all used to fashion the leaf.”

On tap for tomorrow:  Pictures of Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringling Family Mansion

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Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 1

Other than being a delightful ode to all things circus, the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is a surpising resource for the 18th century.  Not only does it have an original 1788 Vigee-Lebrun of Marie Antoinette, their collection of fans is spectacular.  Take, for instance, this trio from the 1750s.

The left (1) is French and features figures on a landscape.  It’s a pretty example of watercolored leaf paper over ivory sticks.  The predominant design is lace on a black backdrop, black being an unsual color for the time except when used in mourning.  I don’t, however, believe it’s a mourning fan as it was not specified as such at the museum.  If my recollection is correct, full mourning fans would have been made of black crepe during this period with half-mourning allowing white and/or dull colors to grace the garments and accessories.

The middle fan (2) is also French and shows a fête au jardin or garden party.  I have a close-up photo below because it’s very busy.  The sticks in particular are incredible.  Like the previous fan, the medium is watercolor on paper leaf, but it’s made with mother-of-pearl sticks in addition to ivory.

Unlike the first two, the bright red fan on the right is Dutch.  The technique is gouache on paper leaf.  This technique is similar to watercolor except with a higher pigment to water ratio and a chalk-like substance added to the mix.  This creates opacity and a high degree of reflection, making the colors stunning.  The ivory sticks aren’t quite as decorative as fan 2, but the village scene therein is precious.

The additional fans are closed and therefore not very interesting.  So then, the Marie Antoinette Vigee-Lebrun. As a side note, did MA actually read? I’m not so sure!

A Lady’s Weapon Against Stench: Pomanders and Vinaigrettes

When I get past the the overall sumptousness of the Georgian period with its lush embroidered fabrics, exquisite flourishes of gilt and marble and precious imports, I inevitably think of the stench.  It’s not a pleasant topic and one we–thank ye gods to modernity–can avoid when romantizing the past, but let’s face it, London was a sty.  Even before the industrial age, the Thames was a gurgling pot of indelicacy, the streets teeming with what we shall call the ever present eau de malodorous monkey.   In short, not good.

Mary Denton by George Gower – 1573

Pomander and Chain – 1526-1575

While men might have straightened their shoulders and suffered through the miasma (though they, too, had stench-ridding weapons), ladies and their sensitive sniffers required relief. They found it in the form of pomanders which first came to the rescue in the 14th century.  Carried over from Arabia, these scented objects take the name from the French “pomme d’ambre“, referring to the pomme or apple shape of the container, and ambergris, the waxy resin substance used as the recipe’s base from which perfumes are then added. 

Pomanders became popular in plague years when physicians theorized disease was trasmitted through befouled air.  Alas, woefully untrue, as physicians would later discover, but pomanders still had plenty of practical uses.  Worn around the neck or the waist for immediate access, their form was as varied as their bearer.  Aristocrats carried perforated miniature globes made of fine metals and decorated with precious stones and/or intricate designs.  These globes were the predecessors of the vinaigrette, used around the early 1700s throughout the mid 19th century.  Similar to the popular orange and clove pomanders of today, the  lower classes might fashion a ball of aromatic gum pounded with rose water and blended with wax.  Occassionally the recipe included apple pulp.  Sometimes a lanced bag filled with aromatics such as herbs and dried flowers would also be used.

Pomander – a very literal interpretation – late 16th -17th centuries

Although pragmatic, as stench has a way of emanating without proper sanitation, the vinaigrette box was first and foremost an object of pretension.  Used almost exclusively by women by the 1820s, every female aspiring to the gentility wore one at her waist or stashed one in her reticule.  They were mostly made of silver, sometimes gold, and were necessary accoutrements to improve a lady’s sense of comfort and grace.  Their composition was slightly different than the pomander, having a hinged lid on the box and beneath that, a grill.  As the vinegar was corrosive, the grill was often gilded to prevent deterioration to the silver from ascetic acid. 

During this period only the finest vinagrettes sported grillwork in relief or ornamentation (the Victorians preferred their boxes to appear much like jewelry–examples of these are very pretty).  Most had a simple punched grill.  Novelty shapes did exist, mostly as wallet, satchels, and shells, although they could come in any shape one desired.  Many of the surviving Georgian vinaigrettes bear the Birmingham stamp as 90% of English made vinaigrettes were manufactured there.

The basic recipe for the substance within the vinaigrette was exactly as we define vinaigrette today: vinegar with herbs and spices.  The liquid was then added to the sponge that sat beneath the grill.  Vinegar emits a strong odor, albeit not as splendiforous as violets or roses, but as anyone who has visited the circus and battled dung with a scented wrist can attest, shit covered in perfume is still shit. Vinegar, at least, wages the battle admirably.