A ‘Les Sept Âges de L’Homme’ Fan

A delicate18th century fan, featuring a French translation of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from As You Like It

This paper and bone fan is decorated with seven hand-coloured, oval, stipple-engraved images. Each image shows one of the Seven Ages of Man (infant, childhood, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and extreme old age) as described in Shakespeare’s famous speech from As You like It. The engraved text beneath is an anonymous French translation of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech. It is the only 18th century object we have that features the work of Shakespeare translated into a foreign language. On the other side of the fan there is an oval portrait of Shakespeare within a starburst.

Fans were an important accessory throughout the 18th century. They ranged from those with simple, paper leaves to highly ornate, expensive versions, especially designed for particular clients. Although its original function was to cool the face, the fan became an important way of conveying feelings depending on how it was handled and displayed.

This fan would probably have been aimed at the middle classes as the images are stipple engraved, which would have made it a cheaper option. Stipple engraving was a printmaking technique popular in the late 18th century. More expensive fans tended to be hand painted.

To find out more about this fan, read our post on the Finding Shakespeare blog.