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Origin of the fan
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Hand fans in Spain
fretworked fan
Origin of the hand fan
The origin of this common and special artifact is quite uncertain. It can be assumed that the origin of the fan can be found in prehistoric times, when humans discover fire and use any kind of object to blow air and keep it alive.

Thanks to artistic representations of this object, we know that fans were used by Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.

From Egypt, the oldest known representation its in the head of a ceremonial hammer that can be seen at the Asmolean Museum of Oxford. It belonged to "Narmer", that around 3000 b.C. and for the first time united high and low Egypt. This representation shows a group of royal servants, two of them are slaves carrying fans.

Egyptian fans were big, fixed, and semicircular shaped, made with feathers and with long handles. Their function was double: blowing air and scaring away insects.

As time passed by, fans become an ornamental object with a distinctive meaning.

Other artistic representations on which fans appear can be found on the Beni-Hasan tombs, from the XII Th dynasty (1791 - 1796 b.C.), Rameseo sculptural works (XIX Th dynasty) and mural paintings of Medinet-Habu (XX Th dynasty).

Greeks and Romans used fans, a proof of that fact are the many literary quotes from diverse classic authors. For instance, Euripides on his Hellenic tragedy tells about an eunuch that fans Menelao's wife while she sleeps with the aim of insects not to disturb her. Other authors that mention the fan are: Menandro, Ovidio, Tibulo or Propercio on their works.

Greeks had fans of several kinds: the "miosoba", the "ripis" ans the "psigma". Romans had some kind of fans as well. "Flabellum" was the name for the most common one and "muscaria" was the fan used to scare flies.

China's centennial fan tradition starts at Emperor Hsien Yuan's time (about 2697 b.C.). A legend claims that the invention of the fan belongs to the daughter of Kan-Si. The story tells that during a mask ball and to avoid heat, she shacked very fast her mask very close to her face, so male guests could not recognize her. Her gesture was imitated by the rest of the ladies attending to the ball.

Some authors declare that the earliest archaeological proof of the existence of the fan belongs to the VIII Th century for the fixed fan in China and to the IX century for the folding fan in Japan.

In Occident, during middle Ages, the fan or "flabellum" was used during the Christian liturgy to avoid insects and refresh the believers. After the XIV Th century the flabellum fall into disuse in the roman church (except solemn masses and processions until it finally disappears after Vatican Council II), despite of this, its use was kept in Greek churches and Armenia where it was named "Rhipidion".

The fan was also known by Aztecs and Incas. Between the gifts given to Hernan Cortés by Moctezuma six feather fans were included.

In Spain the earliest references about the fan appear at the chronicles of Pedro the first of Aragón (XIV Th century). Another references of this object appear at the inventory of goods of the painter Bartolomé Abella (1429), the inventory of Prince of Viana, and the inventory of Juana the Queen in 1565 (known as Juana the madness). The fans described were semicircular fixed ones.

A feather fan was included in the gifts given by Christopher Columbus to the Catholic Queen Elisabeth after his first trip to America.

 
The purpose of egyptian fans was double: blowing air and scaring away insects.
 
As time passed by, fans become an ornamental object with a distinctive meaning.
 
China's centennial fan tradition starts at Emperor Hsien Yuan's time (about 2697 b.C.).
 
In Occident, during middle Ages, the fan or "flabellum" was used during the Christian liturgy.
 
In Spain the earliest references about the fan appear at the chronicles of Pedro the first of Aragón (XIV Th century).
 
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