Blog Flamenco




The history and magic of the fan

No reviews

A fan is an instrument and a fashion accesory created so that with a rythmic wrist movement it can be easily moved and it can help to cool down the environment. Its origins are believed to be in the East, and its creation is delicate, special when it is made with artistic designs and quality materials. In China it is a millenary tradition, in fact, it goes back to the emperor Hsien Yuan times, around the year 2697 B.C. However, the fans were also used by egipcians, babilonians, persians, greeks and romans. The egipcian fans used to be large, fixed, with a semircircular shape, feathers and long handles. Its function used to be double: to give air and to shoo away the insects. Over time the fans became decorative and an indicative of the power someone had. On the other hand, the romans called it flabelo, and the ones used to scare the insects were called muscaria.



In the East, during the Middle Age, the fan became part of the christian liturgy and was used for the consecration, to protect the Eucharist from the insects and refresh the assistants. After the XIV century it fell into disuse in the roman church, but it was preserved in the greek and armenian churches, where it receives the name of rhipidion. The fan was also known by incas and aztecs, since between the gifts Moctezuma gave to Hernán Cortés there were six feather fans. And nowadays they still made them in different places all over the world, like in Spain, where the fan has become the most characteristic element of our culture and, of course, of the flamenco dance.


Morphology and types of fans


The fans are divided in two parts, the body wich is the area that moves the air and is composed by the linkage and the fabric, and the handle, that allows to manage the instrument with ease.

Fixed fans

This kinds are flat and generally hold by a handle in different sizes. Some of then are symmetric, and have a rounded layer fixed to one end. Other have a cardboard rectangular layer, fixed on one side to a rod that works as a handle. They are made in several materials like carboard, palm tree leafs, fabric or feathers.

Foldable fans

Semircicular fans made with various equal plain rods of wood, ivory or synthetic material, attached at the base with a small nail. The rods are put together on the other side with a wide, normally decorated, piece of fabric or paper. The fan opens in a semicircular shape. This are composed of:

  • Baraja: foldable skeleton of the fan.

  • País (Body): fabric adhered to the skeleton. The fans that don't have this part are denominated just baraja.

  • Varillas (Rods): drawn or painted wooden strips. There are two sections:  the decorated part is called fuente (fountain), and the guide to the exterior part of the rods that covers the fabric.

  • Cabera, pala o varillas maestras (master rods): first and last rod, wider than the rest. In the luxury fans they can end up being authentic artworks of micro-scupltures. jewellery and engravings. Often, this exclusive models have in their heads the initials of the owner. 

  • Calado: holes made over the rods that help to decorate them and to increase its aerodynamics.



The manufacture of a fan

The manufacture of the fan requires the collaboration of several artistic categories: a painter to decorate and illustrate the body; an sculptor (ivory, bone, shell, nacre) or engraver (woods) to drill the rods; and in the most luxurious models a goldsmith (metals). With them also work different artisans that are in charge of manage the precise cut of the rods and the folding and pasting of the fabrics. The independence of each job makes it possible to create every part in different specialized workshops. The stages of the manufacturing process of a fan tends to be like this:

  • Cut of the rods, in parcels and with a template.

  • Polished, sanding and sharpening of the rods (one of the most delicate processes consist in sharpening the guide of the rods in the fabric area so it doesn't get bulky).

  • Draft of the rods with awls, using embossing and carving techniques. 

  • If sculptors, graving artists and goldsmisths do a great job with the rods, the same happens with painters and its drawings, polychromy and golden of the body of the fan.

  • The manufacturing process its almost done when, grouped in packs of thirteen, sixteen or twenty four, and closed on the sides with two pleats, the whole thing is drilled on the bottom side, making a nail go through a hole and afterwards is riveted with two rosettes.

  • The body, whether it is made of paper, fabric, vellum or lace, is mounted on this skeleton. This materials can cover, on both sides, the rods or, in the case of the lace fans, just one of them. The fans without body, whose rods are attached together with zig-zag folded tape, recive the name of baraja. On this kind, the ivory ones of master artisans like the french Martain or the oriental types with silver decoration, have had a long tradition. The mechanization of the workshops has helped the production of the ivory fans, which before was a really delicate task. Not so the nacre ones, whose decoration has to be totally handmade since it doesn't admit a mechanic process.



It is known that before the folding fan showed up,  some where already elaborated with lace and feathers. And in terms of the traditional folding type, it has suffered a long evolution and there has been diverse styles. In the XVI and XVII centuries, the wooden or ivory fan, with body made of fabric or embroidered kid, used to be of short flight. In the XVIII century the fan stop being an exclusive accesory of the upper class, and the wooden kind with short flight and reduced fabric became really popular. In the first half of the XIX century, the small ones from the empire era were really trendy. With the Romanticism they became bigger with a golden, decorating filigree, that was original from the pericón (big fans). In both eras it got imposed the novelty of the printed paper with engraving. On a parallel note, at the end of that century it was really frequent to use painted gauze and lace in the creation of big fans. 



Spanish fans


The first master fan artisans known in Spain are from the XVII century: Juan Sánchez Cabezas, Juan García de la Rosa, Francisco Álvarez de Borja o Jerónimo García. Others that worked with them were painters like Duarte de Pinto y Juan Cano de Arévalo. The technical defaults of the spanish fans provoked that the production was exceeded at the end of the XVII century by french and italian manufacturers. The supremacy lost was not reestablished until the last quarter of the XVIII century, when Carlos II's government decided to subsidize this industry, bring a good master in this task from Italy and limit the entry to Spain of foreign fans. Under the protection of Floridablanca count, Eugenio Prost, french artisan, settled himself in Spain. He, with the help of his wife, put the spanish quality of the fans high enough to match the rest. Almost at the end of the XVIII century the fan masters artisans guild became official with the foundation of the Valencia Real Factory of Fans. Over time, slowly but surely, the fan became part of our culture. Used initially on the hottest days of the year to refresh the environment, became one of the most important parts of our tradition, specially in the flamenco field.



In Flamencoexport we have a selection of artisanal fans, made by experts, decorated with a big variety of designs, and customizables. If you are interested in finding the perfect fan for you, visit
 our website and look at our main products.

Write a comment