Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Unfolding Pictures: Fan Depicting Claudia Proving Her Innocence, 1740

Fan Depicting Claudia Proving Her Innocence
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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Fan Depicting "Claudia Proving Her Innocence"
Italian, 1740
Kid Leather, Pierced Ivory, Mother-of-Pearl
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Claudia Quinta was a Vestal Virgin. Her job was to tend the fire at the Forum which had been brought by Aeneas from Troy to Rome—as one does with fire. As was often the case with those wacky Vestal Virgins, there was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding her virtue and she ended up being accused of adultery. One would think that with all the fire-tending, she wouldn’t have had the time for other pursuits, but there you have it. Claudia was forced to prove her innocence. And, she managed to do it with the help of the Goddess Cybele. Fair enough. You see, she proved her chastity by pulling a ship with the strings of her girdle. Now, how that shows her to be chaste, I’m not sure. If anything, it proves she had a strong midsection and nothing more, but nevertheless, the elders saw this miraculous bit of naval and navel fortitude to be evidence enough that she wasn’t an adulterous, but rather a freakishly strong, happy little Vestal Virgin. Imagine what she could have done if she had Spanx.

This fan with pierced ivory sticks and mother-of-pearl guards sports a kid leather leaf painting with a scene of Claudia as she moves the ship, aided by Cybele. Created in 1740 by an unknown Italian fan-maker, the fan was a favorite of Princess Charlotte, the daughter of King George IV. When Princess Charlotte died in childbirth, many of her belongings were bequeathed to her dresser/friend, Mrs. Louis. Upon Mrs. Louis’ death on Easter Sunday of 1838, this fan and a number of other personal mementos which had belonged to the Princess were given to Queen Victoria. Victoria put this fan on display because she believed it to be quite fine and attractive. And, it truly is.

Finely painted with beautiful workmanship in the sticks and guards, the beauty of this fan has not faded in over two centuries.

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