In my latest Snapshot of History video we’ll be exploring The Imperial Fabergé Eggs!
If videos aren’t accessible to you, or they’re just not your thing, you can read the full script below.
Happy Easter everyone!
On Easter day 135 years ago, an incredibly extravagant Easter present was given to Tsarina Maria from husband Tsar Alexander III of Russia. The gift consisted of the first of many famed Fabergé’s Imperial eggs. It was called the Hen egg and is described by the Fabergé company as having “an opaque white enamelled outer ‘shell’, opening with a twist to reveal a first surprise – a matt yellow gold yolk. This in turn contains an enamelled chased gold hen that once held a replica of the Imperial Crown with a precious ruby pendant egg within“. Maria was so delighted with her gift that Alexander commissioned for an egg to be produced every Easter as a gift for her. Thus begun a long line of stunning Imperial Eggs created by the House of Fabergé.
So what was the importance of these eggs? Who were the House of Fabergé? What happened to the eggs?
All questions we’ll be exploring in today’s Snapshot of History!
The jewellery House of Fabergé had a relatively modest start. It was created by Gustav Fabergé, the descendant of French Huguenot refugees, in 1842. Gustav set up his jewellery store after completing his apprenticeship as a goldsmith with the renowned Keibel Company, who created beautiful pieces for the Russian Royal family. Less than 20 years later, however, Gustav decided to move to Germany with his wife Charlotte and sons Peter Carl and Agathon. This was not the end though, as he left managers in charge of the company. His sons followed in his footsteps, and it was Peter Carl who took the family firm to the next level. Peter Carl returned to St Petersburg in 1866 and began to take instruction from Pendin who was the Fabergé workmaster. With Pendin he restored historical items within the Hermitage Museum, improving his skills and getting inspiration for future creations. With the death of Pendin in 1882, Peter Carl assumed full control of the company. From this point until 1917, the House of Fabergé had it’s glory years. After the creation of the first Imperial Egg in 1885, Peter Carl is given the prestigious title “goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown“. His workshop created a whopping 49 completed eggs in the next few decades! According to Fabergé family legend, the workshop had complete freedom over the design, but had to include a surprise in each egg.
This tradition did not end with Tsar Alexander III’s death in 1894, as his son and heir Tsar Nicholas II continued gifting both his mother and his wife with Fabergé eggs. One particularly beautiful egg, known as the ‘Lilies of the Valley’ was given to Nicholas’ wife Tsarina Alexandra in 1898 and featured a miniature of himself and their two eldest daughters Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duchess Tatiana. The enamel of the egg was rose pink which was his wife’s favourite colour, the flowers were formed by diamond petalled pearls and the imperial crown at the top had a ruby. These gifts were seriously expensive and became popular at the Russian court; showing off the incredible skills of the House of Fabergé. During this creative and lucrative period Peter Carl expanded the business and by 1900 they had roughly 500 members of staff and had received many international awards for their work.
Yet if you’re at all familiar with Russian history, you can probably see where this is heading. Russia was an autocratic state, and after the inadequacies shown by the government during their disastrous involvement in the Great War, they ended up on the road to revolution. I’m aware there was more to the Russian Revolution than just this, but that’s a topic for another time. Regardless, the overthrow of the Tsar spelt disaster for Carl Peter Fabergé and his world renowned luxury creations were no longer the order of the day. He escaped Russia, but his company was nationalised and his stock confiscated. He never truly recovered from having his life’s work taken from him and he died in Switzerland only two years later.
So with the chaos of revolution – what happened to the eggs?
Well they all met different fates but what is amazing is that the majority of the 50 completed Imperial eggs survived.
Around 6 eggs are lost to the annals of history, but in 2013 the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg was opened by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg, who had bought nine of the Imperial Eggs which are currently on display there. This includes the original Hen Egg and Lilies of the Valley egg. The museum also includes other eggs created by the House of Fabergé that were not a part of the Imperial Egg collection. Some of the other Imperial eggs have ended up in private collections, for example the 1902 Empire Nephrite Egg. Yet many others now reside in other museums like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The eggs have provided inspiration for many works of fiction, includes the Ocean’s Twelve movie starring George Clooney whose character Danny Ocean is tasked with stealing the Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg.
So what do these beautiful eggs mean to us now?
Well they show us the opulence and sheer wealth of Tsarist Russia, with all the glamour we would expect from this luxurious court. They are also mementos of a dying dynasty, and a country beginning anew in violent revolution. These eggs are beautiful and extravagant, and can be enjoyed by themselves for their beautiful craftsmanship. The Fabergé company are still around today, and after a turbulent time during the rest of the 20th century they are stronger than ever and continue to make gorgeous pieces of jewellery to be enjoyed. Only two Imperial eggs have been commissioned since 1917, including the Pearl Egg and The Spirit of Ecstasy Egg. The latter of which was a joint collaboration with Rolls Royce.
What do you make of these extraordinary Easter eggs? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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History of the World in 1,000 Objects by DK p.288-289
Images courtesy if Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Licenses.
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