Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Have in hands

Hands in classical portraiture hold more than mere objects. They can also hold secrets and reveal stories of place, time or social class. Hand gestures can have myriad meanings in religious art, or amorous meanings in later portrait art. The classic Napoleonic 'hand in waistcoat' pose in men's portraiture harkened back to classical times when it was considered bad manners to speak with an arm outside of one's toga. And once upon a time a woman's hand fan was an instrument of communication for her. Her freedom of speech was highly restricted otherwise, so this was very clever indeed. 

(click to see larger view) 

There was an entire slew of secret messages in fan language. For example, to fan slowly meant that the woman was saying I am married. No doubt this this was done somewhat surreptitiously, to a prospective paramour.  If a woman were to hold her hand on her left cheek it mean that she was saying no; to let the fan slide on her cheek, it meant I want you, and if she held the fan on her left ear it meant I want you to leave me alone.  

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