The Secret Language of Fans: Jacobite Women in Scotland with Irene Mariani - Context Travel

The Secret Language of Fans: Jacobite Women in Scotland with Irene Mariani


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Decorative objects and refreshing tools, hand-painted fans were inseparable allies of elite women in eighteenth-century Europe. In Scotland, fans were also used as secret political tools during the Jacobite rebellion. How could a woman secretly communicate her political views by merely folding and unfolding a fan?

‘I cool, I refresh, and I can keep secrets’ . These words summarize the main purpose of an object that became an inseparable ally of eighteenth-century women: the fan. Originated in the East and shipped to Europe in the early modern times, folding fans were expensive hand-painted objects that accompanied women on every social occasion.

Some of the fans that circulated in the elite circles of eighteenth-century Scotland seem to have been more than merely fashion accessories. Endowed with powerful political images and symbols of the Stuart family, these fans can be connected to the Jacobites and the political cause they were supporting: restoring the Stuart family, and therefore a Scottish king, to the British throne. Folding and unfolding a fan, revealing and concealing its meaningful political symbols, transformed fans into mediums for secret conversations, allowing women to intertwine fashion practices with political purposes. This provocative use of fans and of other gendered objects that will be considered in this Conversation gave women a political voice and placed them at the forefront of the Jacobite rebellion.

Blending history, art history, and women's studies, this Conversation will begin by introducing the Jacobites in Scotland: who were they, and what did they want to achieve? Attention will then shift to fans. We will compare the decoration of four surviving fans from the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with examples from Italy, France, and Spain, and reflect on the peculiar use of the British ones as both decorative accessories and tools of political propaganda. Fans will be considered part of the broader range of surviving Jacobite objects that became women’s ‘weapons’ in the rebellion, including jewels, glassware, and clothing.

Led by an expert on art history, Irene Mariani, this interactive seminar will explore the Jacobites in Scotland and what we can learn about their political ambitions from decorative objects from the past. Designed to inform curiosity and future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of women’s role in this fascinating aspect of Scotland’s history.

Irene specialised in Italian Renaissance Art and her doctoral thesis looked at the artistic patronage of the Vespucci family in fifteenth-century Florence. She was an intern at the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and collaborated with the Education Department of the National Galleries of Scotland. Irene currently teaches History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh stole her heart and it is now her second home.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
100%
(4)
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(0)
0%
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D
D.
More than meets the eye

I was not quite sure what to expect form this lecture but it turned out to be such a treat. Irene’s presentation was totally engaging from the very beginning. Loved it.

S
S.S.
I enjoyed Irene so much!

This is my 3rd conversation with Irene. She is charming knowledgable and the talk was truly educational! I enjoyed her very much!

M
M.M.
Interesting material culture

Although there is debate as to whether using fans to communicate between people was really true--it may have been a Victorian attempt to sell fans--the objects Mariani showed us and discussed were overtly political yet used by disenfranchised women. Interesting illumination of a corner of material culture history.

K
K.

Guest did not leave comment

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
100%
(4)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
D
D.
More than meets the eye

I was not quite sure what to expect form this lecture but it turned out to be such a treat. Irene’s presentation was totally engaging from the very beginning. Loved it.

S
S.S.
I enjoyed Irene so much!

This is my 3rd conversation with Irene. She is charming knowledgable and the talk was truly educational! I enjoyed her very much!

M
M.M.
Interesting material culture

Although there is debate as to whether using fans to communicate between people was really true--it may have been a Victorian attempt to sell fans--the objects Mariani showed us and discussed were overtly political yet used by disenfranchised women. Interesting illumination of a corner of material culture history.

K
K.

Guest did not leave comment