Abstract: This article describes the difference between people's attitude towards tea tradition and its reflection in the paintings of artists of the two countries: China and Russia. The problems of origin history of tea traditions and philosophy of the tea ceremony in China are risen up on the example of Chinese artists’ paintings, these artists are Yang Li and Zhao Ji Beng. These problems are also risen up on the example of an unknown artist of the late period of the Tang Dynasty. The author tells about cultural features of tea in Russia on the example of B.M.Kustodiev’s picture.
Keywords: tea culture «chayi» - the Eastern art of tea, Lu Yu's «Canon of tea», Tang Dynasty, traditional Chinese painting, Yang’s Li Ben works, tea ceremony, china, tea things, Russian samovar, Russian traditions of hospitality, B. M.Kustodiev’s works
Tea is unique on its drink’s popularity, tea won the love of people all over the world. Tea is loved in the East, is revered in England, and is valued in Europe. A lot of mysterious and beautiful legends are connecting with its appearance. In every country people’s own traditions, rules of using tea, tastes preferences had been evolving over the centuries. The world of a tea ceremony is rich and various, and it certainly has found an echo in artists’ works: with a help of paintings that reflected the history, traditions, and most importantly, people’s attitude and spirit towards tea.
The Chinese tea culture was originated in the period of prosperity of the Tang Dynasty (June 18, 618 – June 907). In the history of China this dynasty is considered as a period of the highest power and great discoveries. During this period, tea that previously was considered as a drug or a food product, now has become an important element of Chinese culture. Tea drinking spread across the whole country and has acquired the status of a «tea art» (chayi, 茶艺). Regardless of whether it is a period of formation or later periods, the tea traditions of China carry a philosophical beginning. In a process of the Chinese ceremony people should adhere to the «golden mean» principle. It means that in order to solve a problem situation, people should come to this situation from all sides. During the Tang Dynasty, Lu Yu’s book «The Canon of tea» (733-804) appeared. It is the first composition of the tea ceremony and tea traditions in the history of medieval China. Speaking about the «golden mean» principles, it is important to note that water and fire seem to be two absolutely incompatible concepts, however, Lu Yu argued about their unity in the nature. He talked about the inability to boil water without fire and make tea without any water. Lu Yu’s book had a few small illustrations that tell us about the preparation of tea, but do not consecrate tea traditions as they are. However, among the lovers of this drink, there were a lot of artists who having inspired by Lu Yu, later could open culture of the tea traditions in their pictures and tell people about the tea as itself.
The painting of the Chinese artist Yan Li Ben «Xiao Yi studies Lan’s Ding calligraphy masterpiece» (唐 阎立本 萧 翼 赚 兰亭 图) (Fig. 1) is the first painting in China that is dedicated to tea. On the left corner of the picture we see the scene: a boy bends down, holding a big cup, waiting while an elderly servant finishes making tea and then it can be served to guests. An old man is sitting on a round reed mat and stirring tea, there is a tripod tile on the floor in front of the man, a tripod is exuding coal fire. There is a tea kettle with steam coming out of it on a hot plate with a bit elongated neck. There is a table for the tea ceremony near servants’ legs that has tea accessories. This is a picture of early Tang Dynasty, when the tea has become a very important element of hospitality. The story of this painting is that: the name of the hero at the right side of the picture is Xiao Yi, two monks are sitting next to him, and the history that is associated with the plot has an interesting outline. The emperor of that time Dang Dai Zong really appreciated calligraphy and willed the painting of artist Wang Xi Zhi. Later he got to know that the painting that he wished was in the hands of master’s student (the monk whose name is Ben Tsay, he is sitting in front of Xiao Yi on the picture). The Emperor immediately sent people to the monk, offering a lot of money to buy back the picture, but the monk only replied that the picture had been lost. After that, the minister of the Emperor — Fan Xuan Lin offered to find someone who would be able to obtain important state information, and it turned out that this kind of person became Xiao Yi, who was a state historian. The monk and Xiao Yi «accidentally» met in a temple while Xiao Yi was holding his hands behind his back and attentively examining the murals. The monk was really surprised his interest because Xiao Yi introduced himself as a merchant. Then, got into a conversation with a monk, he several times purposely referred to the other paintings that he had. The monk looked at the work and said that it was not the best of the master’s works. Xiao Yi, pretending, asked: «What is the best work of this artist? ». At that thing the monk, smiling, said, «lantingtszi» «兰亭 集 序» («Preface of the Orchid Pavilion» — the famous work of Wang Xizhi). The next day the monk showed him the picture. And Xiao was delighted with it, but he tried to have a straight face and said to monk that the picture was not real, proposing to compare with the other two brought works. Xiao Yi put pictures on the table, using the moment of the lack of the monk, Xiao Yi substituted for a copy and stole the real picture for the emperor. The Emperor was unspeakably happy and generously rewarded Xiao Yi. The monk could not stand this loss and died.
Fig.1. Yang Li Ben. (唐 阎立本 萧 翼 赚 兰亭 图) «Xiao Yi Fig.1. Yang Li Bien. (唐 阎立本 萧 翼 赚 兰亭 图) « Xiao Yi studies Lan’s Ding calligraphy masterpiece, early era of the Tang Dynasty (618 -907), paper, ink studies calligraphy masterpiece Lan Tignes’ early age of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), paper, ink
The value of this painting is that there is not only the scene of making tea and drinking tea, we see that the whole story and preparation of a tea ceremony opens in front of us. The picture shows the way of an implementation and maintenance of elaborate discussions and also problem-solving.
Fig.2. Unknown artist of the late period of the Tang Dynasty
«Palace Music» (唐人 宫 乐 图), (618 -907), paper, colored ink
Another painting by unknown artist is under the name «Palace Music» (唐人 宫 乐 图) (Fig.2). This picture introduces us the way how women drank tea at the court in the imperial harem. This work dates to the late period of the Tang Dynasty. It should be noted that during that period Lu Yu had already completed his work «Canon of Tea». If before the most popular way of making tea was thought cooking of tea, then Lu Yu offered a new method, such as roasting and drying. This method not only corresponded to the nature of the tea, but also definitely possessed cultural content. Educated people, officials and even the emperor, everybody recognized the superiority of this method, and this method became widespread.
In the middle of the picture there is a huge square table that is surrounded by the emperor’s concubines. There are bowls of wine on the table, there is a tea pot in the center. The woman at the right side is holding in hands a scoop for tea, pouring it into cups. On the opposite side of a table there is another concubine, she is drinking tea, and the servant as if gently supports her hand. She looks intoxicated with tea. The atmosphere of the picture looks easy, depicted women are talking, drinking tea and playing ancient musical instruments: Chinese lute, flute, pipa and the others. The faces of women are expressing pleasure and enjoyment, it lets us understand that the sounds of music instruments are beautiful. Even a little dog under the table seems to be lying peacefully and enjoying the surrounding conditions. This picture tells us that tea drinking is an integral part of a holiday.
The next painting is by Zhao Ji «Meeting of scholars» of Song Dynasty (赵 佶 文 会 图 [宋]) (fig.3-4). On this picture the gathered scholars are depicted in the garden under the willow and bamboo trees. There is a dish of fruits, wine, tea cup on the table. Some men are just sitting and holding tea cups, someone is discussing something, but there are also people who are talking in whisper, as if face to face. The two men under the tree are discussing something of their own, exchanging civilities. There is a small table for tea in front of a big table; there are servants near the small table. On the table there are cooked dishes, but the servant boy is decorating the plate in a hurry. Tea cups are put on the table. The other boy is holding a vessel with hot water that is intended for brewing tea, and the third boy is pouring tea into cups, using a ladle with a long handle. At the top at right and left sides of the picture, the artist with his own hand has added the picture with his poems.
Fig. 3 Zhao Ji.
«Meeting of scholars»
Song Dynasty (960 — 1279)
(赵 佶 文 会 图 [宋]) paper, colored ink
Fig.4. An enlarged fragment of the picture
Of course, the tea traditions and pictures that tell us about them, with each epoch were becoming more and more profound meaning. For example, if the paintings of the Tang and Song Dynasty portrayed people of China, who drink tea in the palaces and gardens at homes, then people from the pictures of Ming and Yuan epoch began drinking tea in the nature, in the fields and mountains. This thing expressed people’s breadth of outlook and philosophical reflections on the theme of deep unity of a man and the nature. The development of traditions went on in every epoch, traditions changed and supplemented. If in the Chinese tea ceremony drinking of tea contains deep philosophical implication, then in Russian culture it contains more emotional component. Before the first appearance of tea in Russia, it was accepted to brew a variety of roots, fruits, leaves, for example, cherries and currants, a variety of herbs. The tea came from Asia to Russia only in the XII century, and in the XIX century all the estates already drank it. It played the important role in the development of the tea traditions in Russia. The tea drinking in the paintings of Russian artists is not only a demonstration of Russian traditions, but also a reflection, a desire to show the world the image of the Russian soul.
Perhaps the most famous representative of the «tea art» can rightly be called Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878 — 1927 years). A frequent subject of his paintings is a tea party at samovar that tells us about the life of Russian people in the late XIX and early XX centuries. One of the most significant works of the artist devoted to the merchant life on the theme of a tea party is «Merchant’s Wife at Tea» (1918) (Fig. 5). Looking at this picture, you can get a full picture of the tea meal in Russia. Fruits, jam, bread, pretzels, a bursting with huge fervor samovar — all these things in the first place indicate to the point that one of the main components in the Russian tea party is a rich decoration of the table. If we look into the depths of the picture, to the next house, across the street, we can see the old merchant and his wife. They are slowly sipping tea from the samovar, using saucer, as the mistress of the picture that fills the most part of it, as if she dominates over the depicted town.
With all the extravagance of a tea party, it would be important to emphasize the role of the samovar. The samovar capital in Russia is believed Tula. In the second half of the XIX century there were about 80 factories that produced more than 150 models of samovars. The samovar is not just a household item of a Russian man, is not only a symbol of the tea party, the personification of wealth and prosperity, but it is also often the most expensive thing in the house. Despite its high value, almost every family had it. The samovar was presented, passed by inheritance, included in the dowry. During the history of samovars, the appearance of a samovar had been changing according to people’s tastes. Initially samovars had an imprint of the Rococo style, then had the Empire style, also could not avoid Modern style, but the inner content of the samovar was traditional. If look at the artists’ paintings that are devoted to tea, we draw attention to the fact that the head of the table, at the most conspicuous and honorable place there is a bright-finish polished samovar. It looks as if the samovar is rising and reigning over the whole feast. And at the same time the samovar is a symbol of Russian hospitality that collects in a circle friends and family and gives them warmth and joy. If we look at B.M.Kustodiev’s picture «On the terrace» (Fig. 6), then of course we can see that the central place on the picture takes the bright-finish polished samovar, that symbol of comfort around which a big friendly artist’s family and a family of his sister gathered. The artist’s wife, the way it should be to a hostess, is pouring the tea and at the same time with love and tenderness is keeping an eye on a little daughter, who is carried away by a game with an apple and it looks as if she does not pay any attention to anybody and everything that happens around her. The artist, as if he having thought about something, is looking into the distance. And Kustodiev’s sister is admiring her little nephew, who is curiously looking at a spectator, or how we can guess, at his father, who is drawing the picture. Everybody seems to be busy with their own business, as if they live their own lives. But at the same time they have one common thing — they all gathered on the terrace to drink a morning cup of tea.
Fig.5. B.M. Kustodiev. «Merchant’s Wife at Tea», canvas, oil, 1918
Fig. 6. Kustodiev «On the terrace», 1906, canvas, oil
Comparing the Chinese and Russian tea culture, first of all, we pay attention to the difference of approach to the tea residents of the two countries. The ability to escape from the vanity of the world , just sit quietly and think, or forget about business and drink a cup of tea in a nice, cheerful company on jokes and laughter – that is the main idea of the tea party, that found an echo in the artists’ paintings and in realities for Russian people. For Chinese people the Tea Party — is a ritual, search for spiritual harmony. This thing, first of all, is admiration by a process, as the pleasure of reading a verse, as a hidden story from the public gaze.
In conclusion we can draw the next conclusion: in the Chinese art of painting the theme of a «tea ceremony» and the culture of tea is accompanied with a hidden meaning and the mystery of life. This theme is also accompanied with the philosophy of a process that is a source of inspiration for a creator that visually reflects a ritual process of «sacrament of tea». This source helps a viewer to understand and feel a process in a deep way. In the painting of Russian artists, on the example of B.M. Kustodiev’s works, it can be noticed the fact that the artist brings to the first plan the idea of expressing personal qualities of a portrayed man that is enjoying a process of tea. The artist shows us a portrayed person’s peace of mind and peaceful state and also the all members of a scene, emphasizing the widespread hospitality of Russian nature; the artist passes to spectators the household atmosphere of the event through a still life with an essential attribute. These attributes are Russian samovar and richly laid table.