Liens, musées etc




Questions d'Eventails


        Qu'est-ce que ce disque ?
      What is this disk?

Cette page en français !
Here is a fan which seems without mystery, but which however raises a question which we cannot answer, and which we are therefore going to ask you.

But first, let's describe it. It is a fan with 14 sticks (plus 2 guards). The sticks appear to be made in ivory and the guards in bone, with a metallic rivet (brass?). The sticks are slightly engraved and gilded with straight or sinuous strips. The guards, decorated in the same way, are wavy in their upper part. The double leaf is made of laid paper, without a trade watermark that we can see by transparency. This leaf is decorated on the recto with gouache, with gold highlights. The decor, simple or even naive, shows a radiant distribution of 15 stripes (7 symmetrical on either side of a median one) each forming approximately a fold and a counter-fold, all dotted with stylized flowers of various sizes, on backgrounds of different colors, squared or striped. The stripes are separated by golden borders. In the center, spanning 7 bands, a cartel with weavy borders shows a scene seen a thousand times, representing in a conventional landscape with thin trees an elegant couple. The young woman with high hair is half seated on a stone wall. In front of her, a young hatted man seems to be flying (transported by love?) Rather than standing on his knees in front of the beautiful girl.

scène galante au disque

So here is a charming fan, probably inspired by furnishing or fashion fabrics, which by its style seems to correspond to the first years of the reign of Louis XVI, when the fashion of neoclassicism has not yet completely triumphed. The dimensions as the number of sticks also allow such dating in the late 1770s or early 1780s. The verso is as often very simple, consisting only of a branch of old roses. The only originality: at the upper left edge of the sheet, a handwritten note; alas we do not know what it may mean.

scène galante au disque reversmention manuscrite

We will welcome all the thoughts that this modest fan can arouse. But it is a detail that makes us wonder. Indeed, behind our couple of lovebirds is a high tower, which perhaps symbolizes the castle where they will prove more intimately their love. But what do we see at the top of this tower?
What is this circular shape, or this sphere, which seems to be placed on a tripod? In our 21st century eyes, this looks like a satellite dish, or the water tanks that we see on roofs in some countries prone to drought. But in the 18th century? This is the simple, naive and frank question that we are asking you.


This kind of decoration is occasionally found on fans from the end of the 18th century. With the authorization of their owner (whom we thank), we reproduce here a detail of a folded fan with an ivory monture and a double leaf in gouached and gilt silk, probably dating from the early 1780s. an edifice that appears to have openings and topped with such a disk. You will also notice the presence - so frequent, and so frequently unnoticed! - of a seller of oublies, these kinds of conical waffles also called "plaisirs (pleasures)", hence sometimes some bawdy innuendos. The sale was usually done using a lottery arrow attached to the top of the drum containing the treats.

disk and oublies

Already answers!

Several of our correspondents have shared their suggestions.

Ms Мария Сергеева (who also showed us the image of a curious tightrope disc by Paul Outerbridge -1934-) wrote: "Very interesting! And the house is like a modern one! A search for images gave fragments of the crucifixion of the Balkans of the XIVth century. It is not very similar, but perhaps to give a direction to the thought ". In support of her words, she shared the image opposite. It must be recognized that there is a certain similarity, and that one could think that on the fan, this small disc is nothing other than a sun or a moon".

Also very credible was the observation of Lorraine Taylor-Kent, President of the Fan Circle International: "As you have observed, the image is naively painted, and I see the 'tower' as a stone ornament with a small globe on top".

This observation seems common sense. However, the naive and clumsy nature of this painting also allows us to see in the construction -if not a pagoda such as the one erected in Kew by William Chambers or for the Dud de Choiseul in Chanteloup-, at least an edifice raised accordingly to the taste which during the second half of the century: the  Désert de Retz column, the "Folie-Beaujon" mill embellishing the park of the future Palais de l'Elysée, or the "tour de Malborough" built in Bellevue in 1784 by C.-L. Châtelet for Mesdames (the king's aunts).

That is why I answered: "However I think that if the "tower" was a stone ornament, which is very possible, the "globe" would be bigger and without legs. I think that on thousands of 18th century fans I have seen it is the fist time I see this. We also sometimes see clocks (perhaps related with a somewhat bawdy "heure du berger") but clocks need needles and here the charactersare not shepherds (even for "bergerades").

To this Lorraine Tailor-Kent answered, again with common sense: "I agree with you and would have thought the Globe to have been much larger but the person who drew the scene had little experience or even direct memory of 'elegant gardens and stone structures'.  I guess this was a fairly cheap fan to produce and would have appealed to those of modest means and who would have delighted in the possession of a fan.   I do feel that , although the dimensions of the structure are weird, -it is not a tower but a much nearer artifact as the greenery seems quite close to the couple and structure.   I did wonder if it was an arch as the colour of larger 'face' is different......but an arch would surely have indicated a more important structure leading to something to be noticed...........and this is a very simple courting scene in a a lady would not have ventured into the countryside alone with a young man."

As for Anna Checcoli, Italian collector (see in particular her site, she has posted a detail of a fan with on a curious building a disc quite similar to the one we are showing, but without feet. This would corroborate the hypothesis of the president of the Fan Circle International. However it could be a dovecote... and the surprising building that leans next to it makes us think of a construction covered with mirrors...


Anna Checcoli pigeonnier

...and Serge Davoudian, the well-known antiques dealer and hand fans specialist, gave me another lead: "On the terrace [...] probably a standing mirror ... I let you judge to see the symbols there. Maybe a face"

Thesaurus opticus
Domaine public,
To tell the truth, this possibility of a mirror was in my mind before I asked this question here. But I hadn't studied it. My correspondent's remark led me to some additional research, which leads me to a new hypothesis, which seems to me to be fairly well founded.
I therefore suggest (until better suggestion) to see in the disc appearing on our fan a "burning mirror", that is to say a mirror intended to set fire. These mirrors are commonly called Archimedes' mirrors, since the great ancient philosopher and physicist is presumed to have, by this means, set fire to a fleet which besieged the city of Syracuse.
It is uncertain that Archimedes has ever succeeded in such a feat, especially with a floating objective by nature moving ... But many believed it, and some have tried to reproduce the experiment. An attempt was thus made before King Louis XIV, of which there remains an interesting testimony  in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, evoked by a short video.
But it was the great naturalist Buffon, first a physicist, who presented in 1747, for several weeks in the Jardin du Roi in Paris (now Jardin des Plantes) a successful experiment, using a mirror in fact composed more than a hundred adjustable mirrors, a kind of copy of it remaining in the same museum, which we show below.

Miroir de Buffon

The mirror shown above cannot be the one used by Buffon for the related experiments, as it included more than a hundred small mirrors ... but it allows us to grasp the principle, perfectly explained by the scientist himself (document). The newspapers of the time reported on this experiment. (See here what the Mercure de France says in May 1747). The general public was perhaps only interested in it in 1774, when Buffon published the volume of his famous Histoire Naturelle where this subject was discussed. The same year, M. de Bernières, who had collaborated in 1747 with Buffon made a new experiment in the Jardin de l'Infante in Paris (at one of the extremities of the Louvre).

The taste that had then developed for science and physics experiments certainly led some other curious people to try an experiment that many of us undoubtedly carried out, when we were children, with a simple mirror or with a magnifying glass.

It would not be surprising if a fan made, albeit clumsily, allusion to these mirrors. We also know of fans showing other scientific experiments. Let us cite, without being exhaustive, the "Claude glasses" used for designing landscapes, the electrical experiments of the Chanoine Nollet, the projections of Augustin or Robertson... and, of course, the balloons of Montgolfier, Charles and Robert and others
(See our page about balloons).The taste that had then developed for science and physics experiments certainly led some other curious people to try an experiment that many of us undoubtedly carried out, when we were children, with a simple mirror or with a magnifying glass.

But those who know us are aware that we are always trying to find out what the fans say, not through the ridiculous coded language invented in the 19th century, but through the real "fan language" which can be read in the objects illustrations. Here, if the "burning mirror" hypothesis is correct, what do we see? Against a background of flowers, with meanings perhaps to look for (they are often linked to feelings...) we see this couple of lovers and an instrument allowing to set fire. This mirror, if it is a mirror, would it be there as a modern equivalent of putti carrying flaming torches, or of Cupid bending his bow?

AWat do you think? We really are not sure of the answer.
We will not fail to pass on your suggestions, if possible with  illustrations contemporary with our fan.



Thanks a lot for your answers (use the address on the home page). And please have a look at our other questions ! Browse on this Place de l'Eventail !