Production Place: Great Britain
Fan Made: 1790
Artist: Antonio Poggi and Pietro Antonio Martini
Victoria and Albert Museum
Museum Number: T. 56-1933
George III was King of Great Britain beginning in 1761; his reign saw a time of revolution across the Atlantic. In the eighteenth century the government’s popularity with its subjects was immensely important to maintain order and often the dress of persons reflected the changes in and feelings towards government. Fans were a popular item of dress in the eighteenth century, ranging from simplistic to extravagant and lavish. The politics of popularity, accompanied by the presence of politics in dress, especially accessories, created a niche market for political accessories in the emerging consumer culture of Great Britain. The Poggi fan, depicting King George III and the royal family, exhibits both a political motivation and a lavish design suited for the elite class.
(A print of Ramberg’s Painting by Pietro Antonio Martini)
The Antonio Poggi fan is based on Johann Heinrich Ramberg’s painting of George III and the royal family attending the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1788. The fan differs in design from the original painting, adding the remainder of the King’s children and omitting some of the Academy’s members to allow them to fit. The recreation of the painting into print form and then into a lavish fan shows the range of influence a designer, artisan, or painter could have in the emerging age of consumerism. The fan depicts the family in its entirety while highlighting the generosity of George III, because he helped to found the Royal Academy (Poggi Fan, V&A Museum). The finer detailing of the fan signified that its intended audience was the upper class; the fan was hand colored and used imported carved ivory. Unlike the Poggi fan, the unknown artist fan has no political motivations behind its design; it was designed for a consumer. Both fans were designed for the elite, both utilizing fine ivory and hand crafted design. Fans could range from opulent and adorned with diamonds, just as the fan Duchess of York had made, to simple printed papers (Evening Mail). The fan, unlike the wig, had more visible difference between classes. Fans styling, designs, and make established a disparity between the common fan and the luxury fan. While other articles, like wigs, were more easily mimicked lavish fans were not. Both wigs and fans were big business, but the design of a fan differentiated it from the common items allowing some fans to remain luxury items (Kwass, 267).
Great Britain 1730-1769
The Poggi fan was meant to promote George III and his popularity within Great Britain. It was important for the monarch to remain popular throughout their reign, to maintain peace and support. The popularity of the monarch was a public matter and often under scrutiny as was the case with John Wilkes and the Number 45 opposition (Koscak, 1/14/14). While the number 45 was opposed to George III, the Poggi fan showed the King in a positive light. The common use of small articles as political statements politicized dress in the emerging age of consumerism. France and America would also follow in the politicization of dress though represented in a different manner. In Britain the use of politicized but individualized items ranging from snuffboxes to fans to tea sets established a trend of opinionated consumers. The Poggi fan was not only luxurious but also focused its design on emphasizing the King’s charity for the Royal Academy program and the unity of his family.
The Coronation of George III
Bacchus and Ariadne Fan. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum number: 531-1869
Evening Mail. (London, England), December 28, 1791- December 30, 1791; Issue 444.
Fan Depicting George III and the Royal Family. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: T. 56-1933.
Kearsly, George. An Account of Ceremonies Observed at the Coronation of Our Most Gracious Sovereign George III and His Royal Consort Queen Charlotte, on Tuesday the 22nd of September 1761. London: British Library, 1761.
Koscak, Stephanie. “The Great Renunciation: Commercialization, Politics, and Gender,” January 9, 2014.
Koscak, Stephanie. “Lecture: A Revolution in Fashionable Life: Radical Whigs and Radial Fashion,” January 9, 2014.
Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review, 2006.
McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and P.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications, 1982.
Ramberg, Johann Heinrich, The Royal Family at the Royal Academy. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: E.3648-1923