Posts tagged faberge egg

The first Fabergé Egg: the 1885 Hen Egg made for Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

The late 17th century gold egg from the collection of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, which may have served as inspiration for the egg.

The 18th century gold and ivory egg in the Danish Royal Collection.

Easter just wouldn’t be what it is without eggs and the jewelled, decorated ones that Fabergé created for the Russian Imperial family between 1885-1916 are the most famous of all.  They are the pinnacle of the goldsmiths’ art: ingenious and beautifully made, some with techniques now lost to us.  The quality of design of some of them is questionable, to put it charitably, but that can never detract from the incredible attention, care and detail that has been lavished on each one.

The tradition of presenting painted eggs to loved ones had long been established in Russia.  Easter is the most important festival in the Russian Orthodox Church, celebrating as it does the Resurrection.  It is always celebrated in the Spring, a time in which Russia is finally seeing the end of its long, harsh Winter and therefore a time of rebirth, the egg being a symbol of that rebirth.  Before the Romanovs had started presenting each other with jewelled eggs, they had already been commissioning beautiful porcelain examples from the Imperial factory to hand out as official gifts.

The commission of the first Imperial Easter Egg was the culmination of a long PR campaign by Fabergé.  Alexander III had already bought some small pieces from the firm and they had been working on cataloguing, restoring and organising objects and jewellery in the Hermitage for free during the 1870s.  At some point during these years they had been challenged by Alexander III that they could not equal the craftsmanship of the great 18th century goldsmiths.  They duly replicated an elaborate gold and red enamel snuffbox of the period and presented it to the Tsar, who declared the great master goldsmiths surpassed.

The Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in full Court dress in the mid 1880s, around the time she received her first Fabergé egg.

The Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in full Court dress in the mid 1880s, around the time she received her first Fabergé egg.

So it was natural that by 1885 Fabergé had become the Tsar’s go-to firm when he decided he wanted something extra special to present to his beautiful, accomplished pleasure loving wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.  The result was the charming Hen Egg, beautiful and simple and lacking in the elaborate decoration of subsequent creations.  It is made of a gold shell overlaid with white enamel.  The shell ‘breaks’ open to reveal a golden yolk- this in turn unscrews to reveal a hen perfectly rendered in three colour gold.  The hen opens to yield a miniature diamond crown with a ruby pendant.  The egg could be said to be a close replica of an 18th century one in the Danish Royal Collection, made in ivory and revealing similar surprises- it would have been a sentimental touch to remind the Tsarina of her native Denmark.  However, there is another one of an earlier date and similar design in the Green Vaults in Dresden- Peter Carl Fabergé spent much of his youth there as an apprentice, absorbing techniques and styles which he was later to distil into the world famous ‘le style faberge’.  Almost certainly some of the incredible goldsmithing he studied there was the inspiration for the immaculate three colour gold rendering of the hen in the surprise.

The Hen Egg of 1885 was only supposed to be one off bespoke trinket- but the Tsarina was so delighted with it that Alexander III immediately put in a standing order for a yearly egg and gave faberge the title of ‘Goldsmith by Special Appointment to the Imperial Crown’.  The tradition was continued by his son, Nicholas II, who increased the standing order to two eggs a year- one for his mother and one for his wife.  In total, 50 Imperial Eggs were created, of which 43 survive.

Porcelain Easter presentation egg from the Imperial factory bearing the monogram of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

Fabergé's subsequent, more elaborate creations.

Jewelled Stillness: Faberge Flowers

Two Faberge studies of primroses in enamel, gold and jade.

With Spring bursting and the first lily of the valley popping up through the earth, I am always reminded of Faberge’s beautiful hardstone flowers.  Seen by many as the height of the goldsmith’s kitsch, Westerners always forget the high esteem in which flowers are held in Russia, as they herald the end of truly harsh and ferocious winters. 

Faberge blue enamel and yellow gold cornflower in a rock crystal vase.

Faberge’s creations were truly still lifes in jewels- these must have appeared particularly bright and alluring against the dull light of a winter St. Petersburg drawing room.  They are a true celebration of Russia’s extraordinarily varied mineral wealth: amethyst and diamonds, rose quartz and agates, malachite and diamonds, lapis lazuli and pearls.  The compositions are truly inspired; the prevailing decorative style of the age was the Garland Style and yet Faberge studied the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging, which emphasises different areas of the plant’s form and focuses on line, shape and form- the polar opposite of the Garland Style.  As ikebana only ever uses one or two stems is a simple vase, this is where a lot early Faberge forgers fell as they tried to pass off their multi-bunched copies.

Faberge morning glory in enamel, jade, gold and diamonds.

Faberge’s competitors were never able to reach his refined elegance either- they always put the flower in a jewelled pot, or added extraneous diamond dewdrops, simply making their own jewelled flowers seem contrived in comparison to the Russian goldsmith.  The most important collection of Faberge flowers is of course, the Royal Collection.  It was started by Queen Alexandra (who actually preferred the animals) and has been added to by Queen Mary, the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales.

The 1898 Lily of the Valley Imperial Egg.

The most iconic of Faberge’s blooms is of course the Lily of the Valley- it features in one of his best known Imperial Easter Eggs, a lot of his jewellery and several of his flower compositions.  The most important Lily of the Valley piece is the Imperial Lilies of the Valley Basket specially made for the Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna- it was her favourite flower and one of the very few multi stemmed jewelled flowers made by Faberge.

The most important Faberge piece in America: the Empress Alexandra's Lily of the Valley Basket.