Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unfolding Pictures: Fan Depicting the Abduction of Helen, 1750

Fan Depicting the Abduction of Helen
French Sticks and Guards
Italian Vellum Leaf
Vellum, Ivory, Gold, Mother-of-Pearl, Topazes, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
Of Queen Victoria’s large collection of fans—most of which were antiques at the time she collected them and all of which are exceptional in their own way—several stand out as being the best of the best. This is one of them.

Let’s begin with the guards and sticks. These are intricately carved and pierced ivory which depict delicately rendered figures amidst an elaborate fretwork. When the fan is closed, the layers of the figures form other images through the ivory latticework—creating an almost three-dimensional scene of putti, Flowering trees and dolphins. The sticks and guards are heavily gilt and painted as well as feature applied mother-of-pearl for an additional layer of sparkle. The overall opulence of the fan is made all the more splendid by its studding of pink topazes surrounded by diamonds.

The fan was designed to open 
á grand vol—meaning that it opens to a full 180°. This was the height of fashion in 1750 when this fan was created. While the sticks and guards of the fan are French in origin, the vellum leaf was painted by an Italian artist whose name has been lost over time. The scene depicts the mythological abduction of Helen—the event which is said to have started the Trojan War. The richly painted scene is surrounded by a motif of tromp-l’oeilflowers and ribbons which are really quite realistic. In short, everything about this fan is a masterpiece.

Curiously, little is known about how Queen Victoria came to acquire this fan. It was most likely purchased on her behalf by 
Queen Louise of Belgium—her aunt by marriage. However, unlike the majority of the fans in the collection, no documentation exists for this one. We do know that the fan was bequeathed by Victoria to her son, the Duke of Connaught, who auctioned it off. Later, in 1942, Queen Mary (of Teck) purchased the fan at auction to return it to the Royal Collection. 

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