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Fan handle

  • Place of origin:

    Venice (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1550 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gilt brass, with openwork decoration and engraving

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case 1

Object Type
This object formed the handle of a feather fan. Feather fans were introduced into Tudor England through the great Italian city states of Venice, Milan and Genoa. Originally fans had arrived in Italy from the East. By the 16th century the Western secular use of fans was largely confined to women. Costly and elaborate, these fans were dress accessories confirming status and rank.

The fan handle was made in gilt brass, which was cast, pierced and engraved with Eastern-influenced Moresque ornament (a style of interlaced geometric patterns evolved in Arab civilisations of the Near East and in the Moorish states of Spain). It was a practical and durable item. When the fan's feathers wore out, they could be changed and new feathers arranged in the metal handle. The gilt-brass handle was a less extravagant item than those made of carved ivory, gold or silver. The feathers used might be those of a native bird rather than more expensive feathers from exotic birds such as peacocks, swans, ostriches or parakees, which enriched the finer gold or ivory handles. Most fans were attached to the belt of the dress by a metal chain or silk cord. Due to their fragile nature, few examples of complete feather fans of the period survive, but they were frequently shown in contemporary portraits.

Physical description

Fan handle of gilt brass with openwork decoration and engraving.

Place of Origin

Venice (made)


ca. 1550 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Gilt brass, with openwork decoration and engraving


Height: 17.78 cm, Width: 8.25 cm

Object history note

The Museum purchased the handle from an anonymous vendor in 1882, for the sum of £7. There is no further information on provenance in the V&A Central Inventory entry or in the Abstracts of Correspondences and Art Referee reports.

Descriptive line

Fan handle, gilt brass with openwork decoration and engraving, made in Venice, ca. 1550

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bate, J. & Thornton, D. Shakespeare: Staging the World. London: British Museum Press, 2012.
Ng. A., Moroni: The Riches of Renaissance Portraiture. Catalogue of the exhibition held at The Frick Collection, New York, February 21 to June 2, 2019. New York: The Frick Collection, 2019.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This fan handle was made in Venice in about 1550, but such fans were still fashionable in Britain in the next century. It was intended to hold feathers which were imported from Asia, Africa and the Americas. A wealthy woman might have several of these fans, dyed in different colours. [27/03/2003]


Brass (alloy)


Gilding; Engraving (incising)

Subjects depicted



Accessories; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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