Tea in Europe. From Exotica to Tradition
9 September 2008 - 11 January 2009
In the Blue Bedroom of the Winter Palace (Hall 307) the exhibition “Tea
in Europe. From Exotica to Tradition” from the collection of the State
Hermitage has opened.
The display presents some 200 exhibits made of wood, silver, stoneware,
pottery and porcelain. They include a variety of tea-caddies, teapots,
teacups, kettles on trivets or urns, sugar-bowls, cream and milk jugs,
teaspoons and other tea accessories. Apart from that, visitors can see
engravings, tablecloths, napkins, tapestries, tea-tables and sculpture
illustrating the tea traditions of various countries.
Tea, brought to Europe from China in the 16th century along with spices,
silk and porcelain did not at first stand out from the chequered variety
of striking oriental goods. No-one could have predicted back then that
it would not only conquer the European market, but also become one of
the most consumed drinks in the world.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries tea was a luxury available
only to the upper class. The spread of tea-drinking was assisted by coffeehouses
in which it was served from the 1650s.
From the 18th century Europe split into what might be termed “tea and
coffee zones”. Coffee appeared on the continent some 100 years before tea
and remained the preferred drink in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal
and Italy. Tea “conquered” Britain, the Netherlands and Russia.
In the 1800s Europeans began to understand about varieties and quality
of tea. The drink became such an important part of everyday life in Europe
that special sailing ships - clippers - were constructed to transport
it (and other perishable commodities).
By the turn of the 20th century tea had become an inseparable element
of the European table. It had not only ceased to be an elite or rare exotic
commodity, but also become readily affordable. Tea was no longer delivered
from China alone, as they had learnt how to grow it in India, Indonesia,
Ceylon, Africa, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
In the 16th to 18th centuries, until it was supplanted by porcelain,
silver was the main material used to make tableware for the privileged
classes. This period was also the heyday of silver-making in Europe. It
is in the articles made of this precious metal included in the display
that we can see the development of European tea services in both shape
Just like the shape of the tea utensils, their decoration depended above
all on changing style and also on the technical and technological peculiarities
of the material and the methods used to make the articles. The general
stylistic tendencies and decorative preferences of each period can be
traced as precisely in tea utensils as in other objects.
Following the vogue for oriental exotica in Europe, tea-drinking became
a separate and popular theme in painting, engraving and small-scale plastic
art, on tapestries, fans and other works of applied art.
18th-century craftsmen had already created practically the full arsenal
of tea and coffee utensils that we still use today. The evolution of these
objects from first appearance to final shape can be tracked over several
decades of that century.
The exhibition will also include showings of an animated film provided
by the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK) that presents an ironic
look at the history of tea and tea etiquette in England.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue (State Hermitage
Publishing House). The curator of the exhibition is Liudmila Shatilova,
senior researcher in the Hermitage’s Department of Western European Applied
Early 18th century
Box containing two tea-caddies and a sugar-bowl
Detail of the decoration of the box
Tea urn on a trivet with a spirit burner and tray.
From the Oranienbaum Service
Second half of the 18th century