The Song Dynasty: Typical Teawares

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Posted on May 01 2023

Emperor Huizong Song Dynasty
The Painting of “Literary Gathering” by Zhao Ji, Northern Song Dynasty (618-907)
Handscroll, ink and colours on silk, 184.4 x 123.9 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

Zhao Ji, Emperor Hui (1082-1135) of the Song Dynasty was in power for 25 years and was also a talented and romantic emperor. He was good at painting and calligraphy. He was also a master of making tea. The book “General View of Tea” is written by him.

The custom of having tea and using tea wares became more sophisticated and delicate in the Song and the Yuan Dynasties. Having tea had become an important part of daily lives for the Song and the Yuan people. Under such context, no wonder why tea had become a common theme in paintings in those days.

The painting of “Literary Gathering” was a well-recognized masterpiece about tea meeting, which reflected a typical scene where Song scholars gathered together. The whole activity was held in a wide and peaceful yard. There were eleven participants, who were all scholars or officials. They seemed to be very enjoyed.
In the painting, there are eight tea and wine-servants. The person wearing official uniform looked like the manager of the banquet. At the left bottom corner of the painting, there were tables for tea and spirit. The tea table was on the left side of the stove, with tea boxes and bowls on it. One servant was dividing tea from tea box into bowls with tea weighing scoop; two pots with handle were on the stove of big fire and two servants were serving tea to the guests; A tea basket was set in front of the stove, with spare tea bowls neatly in it; there were two wine pots on the wine table on the right side and wine jug on the floor; the manager of the banquet had taken a tray. It seemed that there were some small cups with wine on the tray and the banquet was almost ready. Behind the tables, there was another one in flowers and trees with a censer and traditional Chinese instrument.
The scene in the painting of scholars’ banquet was grand yet delicate: old friends met again: people chatted to each other; This well-executed brushwork is a masterpiece in paintings about tea in the Song Dynasty, which perfectly compromised the tea banquet, wine banquet, delicacies, flowers, music and incense.

In the Song Dynasty, people ground tea cakes into powder, filtered and then poured water into it. The painting of “Tea Extraction/Grinding” vividly reflected this process. At the top left corner, under large banana tree leaves, a servant was pouring water into tea bowl with a teapot next to the table. The tea brush was next to the tea bowls. The stove, with a pan on it, was in the front of the square table. A fountain jar, at the back of the servant, had a round belly and an indo- calamus leaf on top. At the bottom left corner, one servant was concentrating on grinding tea on a small low table. He used tea roller to work. There was a small tea towel on the stone roller with tea scoop and brush in the front. On the left side, a monk was writing on the table with one person next to him and another one in front of him.

The Painting of “Tea Extraction/Grinding” by Liu Songnian (about 1155-1218), Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) Handroll,  ink and colours on silk, National Palace Museum, Taipei.

We can see that tea making process, such as grinding, boiling water went well with writing and other art activities. The painting has just reflected part of how ancient scholars’ life was like.

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