Monday, 7 November 2011

Communicating with a Folding Fan

Personally, I have always been curious about the historical traditions associated with courtly life, particularly those that are no longer used. Is it because we have less time these days to make the effort or have we just realised the arbitrary nature of such traditions? Even though I am not necessarily one for tradition, I certainly can’t go past the opportunity to dabble in such things when the opportunity presents itself.

The historical tradition of the folding fans for use at court and beyond became popular in the eighteenth century. Their introduction in Europe in the sixteenth century came about as a result of Portuguese trading links with Asia. Playwright Molière (1622-73) referred to the fan as “the folding screen of modesty” – a tool of non-verbal communication.

For those who are interested Kelly (the intern) diligently took it upon herself to research the fan as a means of non-verbal communication. Here is what she discovered.

How to communicate with your hand-held fan

Should one desire companionship, all you need  is to grasp your fan in your left hand. This will tell others that you are approachable and would relish company. To answer ‘yes’ to a question, rest your closed fan on your right cheek, and on the left if your answer is ‘no’.

If the company you have just drawn is most agreeable, simply drop your fan to the floor - this signifies that you wish to be friends. However, if you discover that the person you are conversing with is most disagreeable, twirl your fan in your left hand. Your distracted fidgeting will inform them that you wish to be rid of their company. If your fan flinging has drawn the attention of someone whom you truly despise, simply close your fan and draw it through your hand, this will indicate that you find them utterly insufferable.

Perhaps your efforts have drawn in a suitor. If you find them desirable, place the handle of your fan to your face and this will (hopefully) get you a kiss. If you have an undesired suitor, twirl your fan in your right hand. This will let the poor fellow know that your heart belongs to another. If they continue to pursue you, fan yourself as fast as you can; this will say ‘‘I’m married! Leave me alone!’’

Now, if you are conversing in secret, and fear someone may be listening in, draw your fan across your forehead to announce you are being watched. If you wish to reunite with your companion, open your fan wide to ask that they wait for you. If you would like to take them somewhere a bit more private, open your fan with your right hand and hold it at your face, this indicates your desire for rendezvous.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you have offended your company draw your fan across your eyes for a swift, sincere apology.

Made by Antonio Poggi (1769–after 1803); engraved by Pietro Antonio Martini (1738–97)

Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Britain, about 1790
Engraved and hand-coloured paper, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards
V&A: T.56-1933; given by Dagmar and Gladys Farrant in memory of Arthur and Maud Loscombe Wallis

Miller, Lesley 2011 Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600 - 1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum. V&A Publishing, Hong Kong.

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