Fans were a symbol of wealth during the Elizabethan era. In most of Queen Elizabeth I’s portraits she is holding what you would call a fixed fan. A handle with a variation of feathers coming out of it. Fixed fans continued to be very popular through the end of the 16th century when folding fans came into the picture. Elizabeth was known toward the end of her life to have have used folding fans.
I often find myself staring at Elizabeth’s portraits…looking at the details of each of them. After staring at them for a few minutes I noticed that in many of her portraits she’s holding a fan. Her fans were often made of very colorful and exotic feathers. These fans were not only used to cool a person but they were also a status symbol and were often adorned with some type of jewels.
Fixed fans and folding fans can be seen in portraits of ladies throughout the seventeenth century, a crucial time in the development of the folding fan in Europe. In the earlier part of the century, fixed fans, consisting of feathers set into a handle of varying splendour, were the norm. As the century progressed, folding fans gained in popularity until, by the end of the century, they had completely superseded fixed fans. It is also interesting to note that while folding fans can be seen in the hands of royalty and grand ladies, fixed feather fans were used by the “bourgeoisie” or less well-off.
Here are a few examples of fixed fans from Queen Elizabeth I portraits: