The Order of Things. Exhibit in Detail

We are presenting a new column, "The Order of Things: Exhibit in Detail", in which we plan to post stories about the exhibits of the recently opened thematic exhibition at the museum Collection.

The first item that we are bringing to your attention is a fan with white silk screen decorated with the circular sequin pattern in the form of two friezes-belts, sagging garlands with embossed gold bouquets between them, stars scattered all over the fan, zig-zag embroidery at the top. The frame of the fan consists of fourteen transparent ribs from a tortoise shell in the form of rectangular narrow plates. The underside of each rib is decorated on one side with the engraved gold floral pattern. The underside of the ribs is smooth and undecorated. The upper clamp is made of gold and has rectangular, upwardly expanding shape. Its surface is covered with transparent pink enamel on guilloché background; a narrow band of forge-rolled pattern frames the edge. The clamp is decorated with gold onlay details in the form of a wreath pierced by a sword (in the center), crossed arrows (upper part) and flowers with rose-cut diamonds inlays. The lower clamp is from tortoiseshell, with the engraved gilded floral pattern. At the point where the clamp joins the ribs, there is a pin decorated with rose-cut diamonds, to which gold ring for hanging is attached. The fan bears the marks: FABERGE firm; H.W. workshop (Henrik Wigström); St Petersburg District Assay Office tee 1899-1908  - female head in a kokoshnik, facing left, with the assay number "56" and the initials of the District Governor A. Romanov - AR.

Charlotte Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who in 1886 married Heinrich XVIII Prince Reuss (1855-1911), owned this fan. It is assumed that the fan might be a present to her by either Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia (1860-1922), wife of her cousin Friedrich Franz III, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, or by that cousin’s sister, Duchess Marie, who was married in 1874 to Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia.

Several facts about the history of fan use:
The fan was first mentioned in the 8th century B.C. In ancient times, fans were made from palm and lotus leaves. The homeland of the fan is the Orient.
In the 17th - 18th centuries, fan became a luxury item. Fans were made of silk, leather, parchment and thick paper. At the court of King Louis XIV of France, ladies could only open a fan in the presence of the queen. The lady that wore a fan was by default an aristocrat.
In the 18th century, from aristocratic apanage, the fan became a flirtation and ladies’ coquetry device. It was used not only by aristocrats, but also by the bourgeoisie.

The gestures and signs, which ladies flashed to men at coming-out and social parties with the help of a fan, were invented in Europe at the turn of the 16th-17th centuries. The fairer sex of the Russian nobility mastered this language in the second half of the 18th century. Since then, secret signals made with the indispensable attribute of a woman's toilet have been able to break the hearts of unsuccessful suitors, or vice versa, become the occasion for a romantic relationship. Every lucky fiancé dreamed of having a date with appointed with help of a fan: the number of blades open denoted the hour of the meeting. Moreover, there was the language of gloves, the language of flowers and the language of beauty spots...

At the beginning of the 19th century, during the era of Romanticism, the language of fans among the Russian nobility temporarily lost its relevance. Sentimental correspondence came into vogue instead, but by the middle of the century before last, secular coquettes had picked it up again. Every potential suitor knew exactly what his lady meant when she made a certain gesture with her fan.