An extremely delicate, 250-year-old hand-painted fan has been put on display at Shugborough for the first time

Pictured above: Shugborough Operations Officer Michelle Oskoui


The exquisite artefact is the most fragile item to be exhibited as part of the estate’s Object of the Month scheme. The 2009 Object of the Month initiative sees rare pieces from Shugborough’s archive collection – which have never been on public display before – exhibited within the Mansion house’s state rooms.

The fan is believed to have been painted by Elizabeth (1822-1860), wife to Admiral George Anson Shugborough and is at least 250 years old. Her husband captured the largest booty of foreign treasure ever to be won for a King of England and it is from the rewards of this haul, that the Shugborough we see today was built.

The tortoiseshell fan is so delicate it has never been on public display before and it will be carefully packaged away at the end of this month in order to protect it. Because the fragile object has been well kept in storage, the finely painted colours are still very bright and particularly eye-catching.

Tortoiseshell was primarily made from the shell of the Hawksbill turtle and was a highly prized material at the time this fan was made. The Hawksbill Turtle is now a critically endangered species and the trade of tortoiseshell material was stopped in 1973 as a result.

Fans were an essential fashion accessory for women during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Britain and had their own strict etiquette and language. A woman holding a closed fan could touch the tip to her right cheek to indicate the word: “yes”, and to her left cheek to convey: “no”. Similarly, if the fan was held open partially covering the eyes, it conveyed the message: “I love you”, while lowered until pointing at the ground, the opposite message of ‘I despise you’, was communicated .

Corinne Caddy of Shugborough said: “This artefact is truly beautiful and is not only a real hidden gem but must be one of Staffordshire’ most unique treasures. To bring it out on public display is a exceptional opportunity and we are hoping plenty of people come to admire it in the short time it is available to view.”

The fan is the second Object of the Month which displays the artistic talents of Shugborough ladies after two sketches by Ann Margaret Anson, wife to the first Viscount, were put on display during July. Ann Margaret was trained by renowned English artist Gainsborough and had her work exhibited in a Royal Academy exhibition in 1799.

Shugborough is open daily from 11am until 5pm. The Object of the Month display is just one of many new 2009 highlights, including a new Patrick Lichfield Exhibition (recommended by The Sunday Times) and an exciting programme of events and daily activities. To find out more about what’s on visit or telephone the ticket booking line on 0845 459 8900.


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