Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Fabulous Fabergé Eggs

Easter marks the re-awakening of life and the fact that Spring is already in full swing after the long deathly months of winter. In its religious context this is reflected by the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after his crucifixion.

At Easter time the egg has long been given as a gift, symbolizing rebirth and fertility. Often, this is in its simplest form as a savory food courtesy of the chicken. Its more popular counterpart is sweet and generally made out of chocolate. In most cases the egg is decorated, painted or wrapped in brightly coloured foils. Hidden on the eve of Easter by the elusive Easter Bunny, and hunted for by excited children the next day in Easter egg hunts. This festival is one of the more delightful ones in the calendar year.

Historically there has been another genre of egg that was given at Easter, which although quite inedible was at the same time quite fabulous in its design and execution. These eggs were the Fabergé eggs, brainchild of Peter Carl Fabergé and his brother, Agathon.
This series of eggs were crafted in the workshops of the House of Fabergé between 1885 and 1917, having been commissioned by the Russian tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II for their wives as annual Easter gifts.

Peter Carl Fabergé was trained as a jeweller and goldsmith and although his hand cannot actually be attributed to any of the Fabergé eggs, his membership of the merchant’s guild meant that he had access to the best designers and craftsmen around to execute his artistic vision. It was through this that he was able to build up the company founded by his father into one of international repute, creating artefacts influenced by ancient styles as well as the then more modern art nouveau. This put the house of Fabergé on a par with the American Tiffany & Co. The eggs were produced at the rate of one a year until 1917 when the October Revolution led to the demise of the imperial family, and Fabergé fled to Switzerland where he lived to the end of his life in 1920. It is said that the Bolsheviks gave Fabergé ten minutes to take his hat and leave.

The ingenuity and beauty of the eggs did not stop with the amazing enamelling; precious jewels, metals and guilloche décor of its outside, but concealed an equally magnificent surprise inside. The first Fabergé egg, made to the delight of the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna’s (the whereabouts of which remains a mystery to this day) was a plain white egg with a simple gold band round the outside. The removable gold yolk within produced a varicoloured hen with engraved feathers and rubies for eyes sitting on a nest. By pushing the beak upwards two more surprises were revealed; a tiny ruby egg-shaped pendant suspended inside a replica of a diamond set replica of the Imperial crown.

There are said to be a total of fifty Imperial Easter Eggs in the world, including the nine owned by the Russian energy tycoon Victor Vekselberg. He bought the eggs from the Forbes family collection auctioned at Sotheby’s; with a view to returning to Russia part of its cultural heritage. Ten can be found in the Moscow Kremlin Collection; five are at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Britain's Queen Elizabeth owns three. Others are in the United States, Switzerland and Monaco. The whereabouts of eight is still unknown.

Today descendants of the Fabergé brothers continue creating artefacts and reproductions to keep the Fabergé name alive.

First published in the Connections magazine #11 Spring 2006
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© Alison Day 

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