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Chocolate, Coffee, Tea

Exhibition dates: February 3-July 11, 2004
Exhibition location: Special Exhibitions Gallery, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Galleries, first floor

The introduction of chocolate, coffee, and tea into 17th-century Europe resulted from the sustained contacts of seagoing nations — primarily Portugal, Spain, England, and Holland — and direct trade with formerly inaccessible parts of the world, such as Mexico, Arabia, and China. A large variety of furniture and utensils was developed to serve the new drinks, first for the great households and quickly thereafter for the popular market. A new exhibition, Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, will show the amazing response in Europe by the luxury trades — silver, porcelain, glass, and pottery — in providing a new range of utensils for these new beverages. Drawn from the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition will be on view from February 3 through July 11, 2004.

Chocolate, the bitter drink restricted to kings, priests, and warriors when the Spanish first encountered it among the Aztecs in the 16th century, remained largely unknown in Europe until the next century. Exorbitantly expensive, it was a luxury available only to the wealthy in Europe. Since chocolate had to be stirred just before pouring — to mix the cocoa powder and sugar into the milk — a stirrer was incorporated into the design of the chocolate pot. The pierced hole in the lid through which the handle of the windmill-shaped stirrer, or molinet, protruded is the feature that distinguishes chocolate pots from coffee pots. No full-size chocolate pot is known to have preserved its molinet, possibly because the stirrers were made of wood and became discolored or worn over time. The exhibition includes several examples of chocolate pots, including a rare miniature silver one with its molinet in place. This and a number of other miniature objects will be exhibited for the first time since they entered the Metropolitan Museum's collections in 1963.

Coffee found its way to Europe through contact with the Turks and gained popularity in after the siege of Vienna in 1683. Among the utensils for serving coffee that are on view in the exhibition is a porcelain coffeepot made around 1710 in China for the European market. As coffee was not a drink consumed in China, the Chinese potters had to look to Europe for models. Decorated with an adaptation of a Dutch hunting scene populated by figures that appear to be neither Chinese nor European, this coffee pot reflects the complex influences and stylistic features that characterize Chinese export porcelain of this period. The form is based upon that of a Dutch Delftware example of the late 17th century, which in turn derives from a slightly earlier Dutch silver coffee pot. Europeans considered the monochromatic cobalt blue color to be synonymous with Chinese porcelain.

Tea was first brought to Europe by the Portuguese. When first introduced, it was a precious commodity, imported only from China and arriving after a long sea voyage. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a silver tea kettle crafted in 1724 by Simon Pantin, a major figure among goldsmiths working in early 18th-century London. Resting on a stand for a spirit lamp, with a tripod table beneath it, it is a rare survivor of a once numerous group of objects used in early 18th-century England. At the time, tea was usually prepared by the lady of the house, sometimes with the help of a servant, in the living rooms of a family, not in a kitchen, and dispensed in small servings, about equal to today's demitasse, into tea bowls of Chinese shape. Long preserved in the family of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, this tea kettle and stand are examples of the quintessentially English "Queen Anne" style and masterpieces of Pantin's oeuvre.

Chocolate, Coffee, Tea is curated by Jessie McNab and Jeffrey Munger, Associate Curators in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts.

A variety of educational programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition, including gallery talks. A screening of Alfonso Arau's 1992 film, Like Water for Chocolate, will take place on February 21 at 11:00 a.m. A Sunday at the Met program will include lectures by the exhibition's curators: at 3:00 p.m. Jessie McNab will speak on "Tea and a Lot More Than Sympathy" and at 4:00 p.m. Jeffrey Munger will discuss "Chocolate and Coffee: Exotic Drinks Invade Where Armies Could Not Go."

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's Web site, www.metmuseum.org.

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