Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Unfolding Pictures: A Mother-of-Pearl Brisé Fan, 1750

Brisé Fan of Mother-of-Pearl
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in the mid-Eighteenth Century, this Brisé fan is constructed of mother-of-pearl which has been pierced and carved. The sticks have been left solid--in three areas--to form panels that are adorned with gilding. On one side there are gilded floral motifs, while on the other side three female figures are depicted.

On the fan guards, a carving of Cupid about to shoot an arrow dominates the design. Cupid was a favorite theme in French and English Eighteenth century fan decoration, bolstering the idea of the fan as an instrument of romantic communication and flirtation. This idea was communicated neatly in 1711 in the journal, “The Spectator” which noted “women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them.”

Brisé fans have no fan leaf, but rather, are comprised of fan sticks held in place by a silk cord or ribbon. The stick, therefore, are responsible for the fan’s visual appeal and are decorated by delicate piercing and carving. For example, the intricate work on these mother of pearl fan sticks creates an illusion of lace. This example is one of the more extravagant demonstrations of the appeal of the Brisé fan and would have been a very costly accessory indeed. 

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