The Philippe, Duc d'Orleans Fan Leaf At The Fan Museum

By Tom Foakes | 27 February 2006
a painting of a group of men on horesback wearing eighteenth century clothes

© The Fan Museum

As LGBT History month draws to a close, Tom Foakes of the Fan Museum take a look at an artefact that sheds some light on the fascinating life of the flamboyant homosexual, Philippe, Duc d'Orleans.

Philippe, Duc d’Orleans
Born 21st September 1640 Saint Germain-en-Laye, France
Died 9th June 1701, Saint-Cloud, France

On permanent display at The Fan Museum, is an extremely important seventeenth century fan leaf depicting Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, Louis XIV’s brother, at the Siege of Saint Omer, 22nd April 1677.

Styled as Monsieur, Philippe was the victor at this battle and although his bravery as a soldier was undisputed, his reputation developed more significantly from his overt homosexuality and flamboyant personal style.

As a foil to his glorious brother he was perfect. Perfumed, bejewelled and extravagantly clothed in lace and silk, Monsieur made no secret of his femininity, or his preference for male companions and lovers. Whether through strategy or heredity, Monsieur became a man whose opinions were sought only on matters of ceremony, clothes and gardens.

a painting showing a vast army at battle

© The Fan Museum

His palace of Saint-Cloud on the banks of the Seine was his passion. If he had not been a royal personage, perhaps he could have pursued his interests untroubled by the duties of marriage and procreation. But, as a member of the semi-divine royal family, he had to marry and attempt to provide children.

Following royal protocol, Philippe married a partner appropriate to his status and produced heirs; and after the death of his first wife his second union was also to someone suitably aristocratic. Both wives found their husband somewhat unconventional and his second wife, Liselotte Van Der Pfalz, shared amusing insights into her husband’s character:

“He was fond of cards, of holding drawing rooms, of eating, dancing and dress, in short all that women are fond of. The King loved hunting, was fond of talking of war and had all manly tastes and habits. My husband largely affected large parties and masquerades. He danced well but in a feminine manner.”

a close up of a painting featuring several men on horseback

© The Fan Museum

“He could not dance like a man because his shoes were too high heeled. Excepting when he was with the army he would never get on horseback. The soldiers used to say that he was more afraid of being sunburnt and of the blackness of the powder than of the musket balls, and it was very true.”

Indeed, Monsieur’s sparkling armour, plumes and heavily powdered face clearly identify him in the image shown. Rarely shy of attention, he would arrive at the battlefield painted, powdered, all his lashes stuck together and covered with ribbons and diamonds. Nevertheless his sartorial preferences and delight in extravagance never dented his military prowess. Philippe evidently had no problem glamorizing war.

The Fan Museum, Greenwich, is the first and only registered museum in the world exclusively dedicated to fans. A centre of excellence for academic research and conservation, it houses a unique collection of more than four thousand objects directly related to fans and fan making. In addition to permanent displays, The Fan Museum features thematic exhibitions which change several times each year.

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