Thursday, November 29, 2012

Unusual Artifacts: An Early Florentine Straw Fan, 1620

Brisé Fan
Silk, Straw, Cardboard, Metal, Gold Paper, Thread
Florence, 1620
The Victoria & Albert Museum
After the Royal Collection’s huge assortment of fans (mostly acquired by Queen Alexandra and, especially, Mary of Teck), the Victoria and Albert Museum has, perhaps, the largest collection of fans in the U.K. This unusual brisé fan is the earliest fan in the collection of the V&A.

So, what does brisé mean? The term “brisé” refers to a fan that has sticks but no fan leaf. Essentially, the widest part of the fan is comprised of the sticks which have been designed to be fatter at the top than the bottom.

This early example is comprised of seven sticks. Each stick is formed to mimic the look of a curled ostrich feather. While it would have been easier to attach real feathers to the sticks, the unknown fan-maker has sought to show his mastery of his craft by replicating the feathers in different media. Each stick is attached by a green silk ribbon, and each is covered with green silk and adorned with very small pieces of straw. The straw has been arranged to make a rough mosaic in a pattern of birds and flowers. The curators of the V&A believe that this fan comes from the Italian city of Florence—known as a center for this craft in the early Seventeenth Century.

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