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The Story of Fabergé Easter Eggs and the Russian Imperial Court

March 2, 2014

Danish Jubille Egg

 The legendary jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé, goldsmith to the Russian Imperial Court, was able to take advantage of his extraordinary moment in time through to craft fine jewels and rare objects that still remember today the passions and the feeling of a lost world. These masterpieces, deeply impregnated with the spirit of their age, remain timeless in their beauty, magnificent craftsmanship and absolute dedication to perfection. Fabergé jewels, accessories and objects of fantasy, richly covered with cultural references, evoke a vision of a special period of time, its luxury and refinement, the fabulous new wealth of business men with great power .

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 They show the story of the tragic end of the Romanov dynasty, of the lives and loves of the hard fate Nicholas II and Alexandra, hidden in the sumptuous opulence of their court, far away from the dark realities of a fast-changing world.

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Born in 1846, and pupil to his goldsmith father, Peter Carl Fabergé was educated in St Petersburg and Dresden under the influence of the Renaissance and Baroque treasures of the famous Green Vault in Dresden , a unique historic museum that contains the largest collection of treasures in Europe. As a young man he travelled extensively, immersing himself in the cultural delights of the Grand Tour, the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The primary value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art. He studied in Paris and received expert education from goldsmiths in France, Germany and England.

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The story of Fabergé is unavoidably linked to the lives, loves and tragedy of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas II and his Empress Alexandra, and to the Russian Revolution that changed the course of world history. Peter Carl Fabergé became jeweller and goldsmith to the great Russian Imperial Court, creating exquisite jewels and objects, including the legendary series of luxurious and creative Imperial Easter Eggs.

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His worldwide reputation attracted royalty, nobility, industrialists and the artistic intellectuals of Paris, Moscow, St Petersburg and London. In 1917, the Russian Revolution brought a violent end not only to the Romanov dynasty but also to the House of Fabergé.

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The Bolsheviks took possession of the Fabergé workshops and their treasures, all production was closed down and Peter Carl Fabergé and his family ran away from Russia to Switzerland where Peter Carl Fabergé died in 1920.

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 The series of Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family, between 1885 and 1916, is regarded as the artist-goldsmith’s greatest and most enduring achievement. The Imperial Easter eggs are certainly the most celebrated and impressive of all Fabergé works of art, always linked to the Fabergé name and legend.

photo: Katherine Wetzel   ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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The story began when Tsar Alexander III decided to give a jewelled Easter egg to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna, in 1885, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their marriage. It is believed that the Tsar, was inspired by an 18th century egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Wilhelmine Marie of Denmark. The object have captivated the imagination of the young Maria during her childhood in Denmark. Tsar Alexander was involved in the design and execution of the egg.

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Easter was the most important moment of the year in the Russian Orthodox Church. A very old tradition of bringing hand-coloured eggs to Church to be blessed and presented to friends and family, had developed through the years and, amongst the highest levels of St Petersburg society, it became fashionable to present jewelled Easter gifts. This is the reason why that Tsar Alexander III request Fabergé to create an exquisite Easter egg as a surprise for the Empress, and it was like the first Imperial Easter egg was created.

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This first Imperial Easter Egg is known as the Hen Egg, it is crafted from gold, its opaque white enamelled ‘shell’ opening to show a matt yellow gold yolk. Turning, the egg opens to show a colourful and perfect gold hen that also opens.

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The Empress was delighted with this mysterious gift with its hidden jewelled surprises, and it was the beginning for the yearly Imperial tradition that went on during 32 years, until 1917.

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In this period of time we can say that was created the most luxurious and fascinating Easter gifts collection that the world has ever seen. The Easter Eggs were personal gifts, and the whole unique and spectacular series drew the fascinating and fatal story driving to the end of the powerful Romanov family.

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To make each egg took a year or more ,involving a team of the highest skilled craftsmen, who worked in the maximum secrecy. Faberge had complete freedom in the design and execution, with the only imperative that, within each creation, had to be a surprise. The theme of the Easter eggs were changing every year, only the element of surprise remained a constant link between them.

faberge-coronation-egg.jpg650The range of surprises was very wide, from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage, through a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the Imperial family.

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Alexander III gave an egg each year to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna and the tradition went on, from 1895, by his son Nicholas II who gave an egg every year to both his wife the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and to his mother the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna.

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The most expensive was the 1913 Winter Egg, which was invoiced at 24,600 roubles (then £2,460). In today’s money the egg would have cost £1.87 million.

The Winter Egg, was very famous because the extraordinary series of diamond snowflakes, and also made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This is embellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to look frost. The egg is supported by a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice. Its surprise is a magnificent and platinum basket of exuberant wood anemones. The flowers are made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and garnets and they emerge from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm. It is set with 3,246 diamonds. The egg was sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for US$9.6 million.

Of the 50 eggs Fabergé made for the Imperial family from 1885 through to 1916, 42 have survived.

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Joseph Stalin sold in 1927 many of the eggs, in order to obtain foreign currency. Between 1930 and 1933, 14 Imperial eggs went out of Russia. Armand Hammer (president of Occidental Petroleum and a personal friend of Lenin), and Emanuel Snowman of the London antique dealers Wartski, bought the majority of Fabergé Eggs.

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After the collection in the Kremlin Armoury, the most important collection of Fabergé eggs, nine eggs, was assembled by Malcolm Forbes, and displayed in New York City. The eggs, and 180 other Fabergé objects, were putted up for auction at Sotheby’s in February 2004 . However, before the auction began, the collection was bought totally by Victor Vekselberg. He was explaining that he had spent over $100 Million only buying the 9 Fabergé eggs. He claims never to have displayed them in his home, saying he bought them as they are important to Russian history and culture, and he believed them to be the best jewellery art in the world. Vekselberg revealed he plans to open a museum which will display the eggs in his collection.

The newly discovered Rothschild Faberge

In November 2007, a Fabergé clock, named by Christie’s the Rothschild egg, was sold at auction for £8.9 million . The price achieved by the egg set three auction records: it is the most expensive timepiece, Russian object and Fabergé object ever sold at auction, surpassing the $9.6 million sale of the 1913 Winter egg in 2002.

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Nowadays the Fabergé Eggs are located in the best collections and museums all over the world, such as:

Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia Viktor Vekselberg collection, Russia Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA The Royal Collection, London, UK Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Switzerland Hillwood Museum, Washington, D.C., USA Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, USA Albert II of Monaco collection, Monte-Carlo, Monaco Alexander Ivanov. Displayed at Ivanov’s Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany and The State of Qatar.

Gratefulness:R&R Bond Gallery and James Camps

 

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