The use of Oriental fans dates back over two thousand years in ancient China. In fact, two woven, side-mounted fans were found at the Ma-wang-tu tomb in Hunan Province around the second century BC. But Oriental fans existed even earlier, as they were used in court. Both men and women carried Oriental fans, mostly made from feathers of pheasant, and later silk, in accordance with the different seasons of the year.
During each season, the court patrons would hold a different styled Oriental fan, as was the custom of the time. However, it was not until the Sung Dynasty (1279-960BC) that fan painting assumed importance as an established practice of Chinese painting. These new painted Oriental fans were considered on par with painted scrolls and were coveted by the upper members of society.
Besides appearing attractive, the Oriental fans were used during religious ceremonies and were helpful in shielding the face to avoid endless greeting rituals. As well, with a flick of the wrist, the Oriental fans cooled the air and blocked the sun its patron's eyes. Later, during the Chou dynasty (about 1106 BC), Oriental fans were used in a less eloquent way by fanning dust from the wheels of chariots. This helped to keep the wheels running smoothly while keeping dust out of the driver's eyes.
Nowadays, collecting and displaying Oriental walls is in vogue and people from all over the world are using them to decorate their homes. An inexpensive art piece, Oriental wall fans are sometimes viewed as a trendier and more stylish option than traditional paintings. As well, they can be displayed ingroup themes, on a wall, held in hand, or displayed on a stand, similar to a sculpture.
Oriental fans have their origin in Egypt, during the 12th dynasty, when they were depicted in tomb paintings and found to be buried with the dead pharaohs. Oriental fans were then passed on to Assyria, Greece, the Roman Empire, China, England and eventually the United States. Oriental fans went through many changes in terms of shape and material. In the beginning of its existence, Oriental fans were made from tree leaves, feathers of animals, and even woven grass. But most contemporary Oriental fans are made of bamboo wood and canvas, although some are made with nylon, silk, cloth or polyester.
In Europe, during the Renaissance years, Catherine de Medici (1519-89), whose dowry included fans when she married Henry II of France, raised the popularity of Oriental fans. Even queen Elizabeth I possessed Oriental fans. Most of the Oriental fans in Europe were imported from the East. The Oriental fan reached its peak in popularity around the late 17th to early 18th centuries. It was perceived as an indispensable fashion item and appreciated for its artistic and crafted excellence.
Oriental fans have their origin in ancient Egypt but were "perfected" and used in great quantity in ancient China. The earliest traces of Oriental fans date back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC). During that time, Oriental fans were used mostly as a symbol of power and dignity for slave owners. Held by slaves, Oriental fans were used for protecting masters from the sun and wind.
Later, in the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907), Oriental fans were used in palaces and most fashionable. Made of thin silk mounted on bamboo or wood, Oriental fans then came in a variety of shapes. Early in the Tang dynasty Oriental fans were elliptical; later they became round, hexagonal, octagonal and even shaped like flowers. Today Oriental fans are usually shaped in a half elliptical shape. Regardless of shape, today's Oriental fans owe their beauty and splendor to the magnificent fans of yesteryear in the ancient Orient.