Hand Fans, Goose Necks, and Archery Contests

Posted in exhibitions, journal articles by Editor on August 15, 2014


Barthélemy du Pan, The Children of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1746
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

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Pierre-Henri Biger’s website dedicated to the history of fans, Place de l’Eventail, recently published a notice related to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century target contests, commonly held in mid-August, involving a live goose (or more precisely, the goose’s neck, cou de l’oie).1 Biger quotes from Paul Sébillot’s Le Folklore de France (Paris, 1906), to make sense of a mis au rectangle (pictured at the website):

In Grez-Doiceau, in the Walloon Brabant, the second day of the fair, a live goose was hanging from a rope which brought together the upper ends of two long poles stuck in the ground. A man perched on a trestle remembered all the calamities which had hit the town during the past year, and accused the goose to be the cause. . .2

Installation view of The First Georgians, The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Installation view of The First Georgians, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 2014.

With The First Georgians exhibition (on view at The Queen’s Gallery in London until October 12) still fresh in my memory, it’s hard to not to think of Barthélemy du Pan’s 1746 large-scale portrait of The Children of Frederick, Prince of Wales (Royal Collection), which depicts the future George III as having just struck a wooden popinjay.3 The prince wears the tartan of the Royal Company of Archers—which, as a British regimental uniform, was exempt from the 1745 ban on Scottish national dress. Bearing in mind Desmond Shawe-Taylor’s suggestion that we understand the picture as “an early example of the process by which Scottish identity became something manly and romantic, rather than threatening and rebellious,” I wonder if rustic traditions of shooting a living bird as part of a celebration with ‘atonement/scapegoat’ undertones might add another layer of relevant associations.4 I’m not sure how far I would push the point: the two contests weren’t the same thing (particularly from an animal rights perspective), and with folk festivals, it’s difficult to pin down specifics (times, places, meanings, &c.). Still, Biger’s piece, at the very least, suggests a larger context for archery contests and their pictorial representation in the eighteenth century and might encourage us to look to fans for useful points of comparison.

Craig Ashley Hanson


1. Pierre-Henri Biger’s piece is available in both English and French. On the topic generally, see Biger’s recent article, “Introduction à l’éventail européen aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles,” Seventeenth-Century French Studies 36 (July 2014): 84–92. The issue, edited by Katherine Ibbett, is dedicated to the topic of fans. The table of contents is available as a PDF file here.

2. Paul Sébillot, Le Folklore de France (Paris, 1906), volume 3, pp. 247–48.

3. The Royal Collection’s online entry for Barthélemy du Pan’s The Children of Frederick, Prince of Wales is available here.

4. Desmond Shawe-Taylor makes the point in the entry for the painting from the exhibition catalogue, which he also edited, The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy, 1714–60 (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2014), p. 366.

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