Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Imperial Fabergé Eggs

On the Eve of Easter, it felt appropriate to do a post coinciding with the holiday. Easter originates from the miracle of Christ rising from the tomb, but is embraced secularly too for the big white Easter bunny, pastel colored Easter eggs, and baskets overflowing with Easter candies. These may seem like strange traditions, but they are long standing ones. The Easter bunny tale (ha, get it!?) has been in the Americas since it was brought here by the Germans in the 1700s. Jelly beans and chocolate eggs have been showing up in kid's Easter baskets since before the 1930s.

Longest and most deep rooted of all, the tradition of painting Easter eggs has been around since the 13th century. Yes, you read that correctly. Eggs were an ancient symbol of new life. Even in Christianity, eggs were said to represent the resurrection of Christ. It is hypothesized that the tradition of painting eggs began because eggs may have been a forbidden food during Lent; Christians would decorate them to honor this period of penance before eating them on Easter Sunday. The History Channel has more!

The greatest, most spectacular of all eggs are, without a doubt, the Imperial Fabergé eggs. Interestingly enough, their creation coincides with Easter too!

The Imperial Fabergé Eggs - 1885-1917

Fabergé eggs are a limited-edition creation of Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé and his company. The eggs were produced between 1885 and 1917 and range in style from elegant simplicity (i.e. The Imperial Hen Egg, below) to opulent ornamentation. Of the approximate 54 ever created by Fabergé, only 43 survive today. 

The very first Fabergé egg is referred to today as the Imperial Hen Egg. This egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, who gifted it to his wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna as an Easter present. The egg is initially very simple - A white enamel "shell" encases the outside of the egg. It is when you open it up that you find the matte gold "yolk." Within the yolk is a golden hen with rubies for eyes. It is said that within the hen, there was a miniature diamond replica of the imperial crown adorned with a ruby pendant, but this piece is lost.

Imperial Hen Egg, 1885
The Tsarina was so taken with the gift, she appointed Fabergé a goldsmith of special appointment to the crown and commissioned an egg the following years, with the exceptions of 1905 and 1906 due to the Russo-Japanese war. 3 of the first 5 eggs are unfortunately lost, but we can imagine by those that followed how grand they must have been.

Imperial Coronation Egg, 1896
Probably the most famous of the eggs today is the Imperial Coronation Egg (Ocean's Twelve, anyone?). This egg was made in commemoration of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896 and given to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna as a gift. The translucent yellow enamel field of starbursts is overlaid with a trellis of golden boughs of laurel. Imperial double-headed eagles made of black enamel and a single rose diamond on the chest are situated at each intersection of the trellis. It is said that the patterns on the egg shell were taken from the Tsarina's coronation ensemble.

A requirement of any Fabergé egg was that it had to contain a surprise. The surprise inside this egg was unlike any other - Inside, nestled in the velvet-lined interior was a miniature replica of the coach that brought the Tsarina to her coronation at Uspensky Cathedral. The coach is less than 4 inches long and is claimed to be a faithful reproduction to the original life-size coach even in the coloring of the enamel upholstery on the inside.

Bouquet of Lilies Clock Egg, 1899
The Bouquet of Lilies Clock Egg is one of the larger creations made for the royal family. Again a gift from Nicholas to Alexandra, this egg is a masterpiece in gold, enamel, onyx, and diamonds. The lilies and roses depicted on this Egg symbolized purity/innocence and love, respectively. 

The surprise for this egg is lost, but it was said to be a ruby pendant with rose-cut diamonds.

Both eggs above were made in 1912. The Tsarevich egg (right) was created for Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna in tribute to her son, Alexei. Alexei was thought to die young due to hemophilia and after a particularly bad spell where they thought he might not survive, Fabergé created this egg for Alexandra in celebration of his survival. The surprise is the Imperial double-headed eagle, set in platinum and encrusted in diamonds, housing a portrait of young Alexei in the middle. The miniature portrait was originally a watercolor.

The Imperial Napoleonic Egg (left) was gifted to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna from her son, Nicholas II, in commemoration of the Battle of Borodino during Napoleon's 1912 invasion into Russia. This egg is one of only two where the original concept drawings have been found.

Clover Leaf Egg, 1902
Probably my favorite egg of all is the Clover Leaf egg. This egg is exquisite. This open-work pattern of clover leaves covers the egg, diamond encrusted cloves scattered about their green enamel brothers. Winding bands of gold paved with rubies curl through the field. This egg has never left Russia, considered to be too delicate to travel through absolutely flawless.

The surprise for this egg is also lost, but archives tell us it was a clover leaf pendant set with twenty three diamonds and four miniature portraits of the Tsar's daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. 

These eggs obviously take the "egg decoration" tradition to a magnificent sort of extreme, but I do find it endearing how the family made a tradition of gifting each other commemorative tokens of special times together. I can't speak at all to the politics, but it feels like the Romanovs were a very close family and this tradition they built to be very sweet.

May your Easter be blessed!

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