Saffron Tea Pot with Gilt Calligraphy
Item No. 18037
19th Century, N/A, China
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Although tea is believed to have been discovered in China in the third century, teapots were not used until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). From the 8th century, tea leaves were rolled by hand, dried and then ground into a powder. At first, this powder was mixed with salt and formed into cakes that would be dropped into bowls of hot water to form a thick mixture. Eventually the powder was left in its loose form, to be mixed in a bowl with boiling water and whipped into a froth. This method of making tea was introduced into Japan in the early 9th century, and tea was considered medicinal in both China and Japan for the next 500 years.
At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, leaf infusion as we know it now became popular. The earliest examples of teapots come from this period, made from the zisha, or "purple" clay, of the Yixing region of China. Pottery in the Yixing tradition has been strong since the Sung Dynasty (960-1279); wares are valued for their fine texture, thin walls, and naturally beautiful coloration ranging from light buff to deep maroon tones. The transition from drinking bowls to teapots was a smooth one. Yixing teapots were, and still are, used to brew tea as well as act as the drinking vessel -- one sips directly from the spout of a single-serving pot. Yixing teapots gradually season, the unglazed clay absorbing the flavor of brewed tea, making them a favorite choice for tea lovers. The dissemination of Yixing teapots greatly influenced not only the forms of teapots found throughout the world, but also prompted the invention of hard-paste porcelain in the western world.
This example demonstrates that artistic and economic influences work both ways. Although European designs for teapots are heavily influenced by Chinese examples and their manufacture would have been impossible without Yixing designs and the Chinese invention of porcelain, this piece is essentially a European design made in China. Once porcelain was made in Europe, Europeans began to design their own products, including teapots, teacups and tea implements. However, as the manufacture of porcelain was so much less expensive in China, a huge industry in “export porcelain” developed whereby European designs were made in China and exported to Europe, America and around the world.
This teapot is very unusual because of its color, saffron, the fact that it essentially a monochrome and because it has characters painted in gold on the body of the teap