Easter Tradition of the Imperial Family
The family tradition to commission Easter Eggs made of precious materials and complete with ‘surprises’ had been initiated back in 1885 by the Emperor Alexander III. Carl Fabergé was the creator of these Easter presents. Between 1885 and 1916 50 Easter Eggs were created. 7 of them disappeared without trace in the 1920s and 1930s, while the remaining 43 eggs are now in some of the world’s major museum collections and also private ones.
Members of the Imperial Family were always enraptured by the originality of the designs, craftsmanship of the jewellers and the novelty of the themes used for the annual Easter creations of Fabergé.
Hen Egg. The First Imperial Easter Egg
Giſt of the Emperor Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, for Easter of 1885. She praised the work of the “young but already fully mature, first-class jeweler” three years earlier at the All-Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition in Moscow. Fabergé turned for inspiration to a French Easter egg dating from the early-18th century in the collection of the Danish royal family.
Under the Egg shell made of untransparent white enamel there is the golden yolk ...
Hen Egg Hen Egg: surprise рут inside the egg (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, jeweler: Erik KollinFabergé Museum
... revealing the golden hen which was hidden inside.
The golden hen carried two other surprises: a golden crown and the ruby pendant. Both have been lost in the XX century.
Hen Egg Hen Egg: surprises (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, jeweler: Erik KollinFabergé Museum
The Egg was duly presented to the Empress and pleased her so much, that such a gift became an annual tradition.
Renaissance Egg. The Last Gift of Alexander III
Giſt of the Emperor Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, for the Easter of 1894. She was presented with an Egg in the Renaissance style made of agate and in a gold enamelled frame complete with a scattering of precious stones.
Renaissance Egg Renaissance Egg: opened view (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, workmaster M. PerkhinFabergé Museum
The Renaissance Egg was the last Easter Egg presented by Alexander III to “my dear heart, Minnie”: in October 1894, the Emperor died in his wife’s arms.
After the death of Alexander III, during the reign of his son – Nicholas II, the craftsmen of the House of Fabergé would make two Easter Eggs each year – one for the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna and one for the wife of Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. For Fabergé the task was now infinitely more complicated: he would have to create two completely different, but equally magnificent Easter Eggs – one for the mother and the other for the wife of Nicholas II, between whom, according to accounts from contemporary witnesses there was no “real closeness” or particular affinity.
Rose Bud Egg Rose Bud Egg (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, workmaster M. PerkhinFabergé Museum
Rose Bud Egg. The First Easter Gisft from Nicholas II to His Wife
Giſt from Emperor Nicholas II to his wife, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, for Easter of 1895. It was made to commemorate a joyful event of 1894 which was celebrated in the Imperial family and to which all its members had long been looking forward. In April the betrothal of the heir-apparent, Nicholas, with the German princess, Alice-Victoria-Helena-Louise-Beatrice of Hesse-Darmstadt took place.
The elegant gold Easter Egg made for the year 1895 had been executed in keeping with Neo-classical taste, in the style of Louis XVI, as Fabergé indicated in the bills he submitted. The craftsmen and artists from the firm of Carl Fabergé, the accomplished restorer and “dreamer relishing the past”, had made large numbers of objects in the style of classical French art from the age of gallantry, interpreting it in keeping with the refined, slightly dry manner of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
The Egg was covered with bright strawberry-red transparent enamel over a guilloché background and decorated with diamond arrows, garlands of foliage and wreaths tied with ribbons.
There was a miniature portrait of Nicolas II under a large flat diamond on the top of the Egg, painted with watercolor on ivory. Look how detailed it is.
Rose Bud Egg Rose Bud Egg: opened view (19th - 20th Centuries)Fabergé Museum
The ‘surprise’ was the bud of a tea-rose on a short stem cut. Inside it was a miniature Imperial Crown (now lost). This rose was equipped with a mechanism to open the petals.
Rose Bud Egg Rose Bud Egg: surprise otside (19th - 20th Centuries)Fabergé Museum
The rose is a symbol of love, just as the gold arrows of Cupid decorating the outside of the Egg provided unambiguous indication of Nicholas’ sentiments towards his “sweet, dear Alix”.
Giſt from the Emperor Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, for Easter of 1897. Carl Fabergé got the idea for the shell from the gold brocade mantles worn by the emperor and empress during the rite of Holy Coronation. The precious shell of the egg is covered with translucent yellow guilloché enamel of carved beams, which has the sparkle and iridescence of gold brocade. On top, without the slightest gaps, there is attached a lattice of black enamel eagles with diamonds, connected by green gold leaves.
At the bottom of the Egg there is a rose-cut diamond of through which you can see the date: 1897.
The flat rose-cut diamond is attached to the upper half. Through the magical crystal we can see the empress’s initials. The letter A is made of small diamonds, and the F of rubies.
The surprise in the Coronation Egg is a tiny but accurate copy of the carriage that carried Alexandra Feodorovna into the ancient capital of Moscow on May 9, 1896.
The unique model of the carriage, a masterpiece of jewelry and carriage art, was carried out by the young master Georg Stein, who regularly visited the court stables in St. Petersburg so that all the parts of the model would accurately repeat the parts of the carriage, such as its turntable. The miniature gold carriage with red enamel and diamonds turns and rolls in accordance with all the rules of its life-size version, on a spring suspension. Both doors open with a turn of tiny gold handles, and folding steps come out the doors from inside.
In 1898, Alexandra Feodorovna was given an Egg made in the fashionable “latest” style, Art Nouveau. Fabergé was aware of the empress’s love for Art Nouveau, with its floral symbolism and sophisticated and whimsical lines. The egg’s shell is covered in translucent pink guilloché enamel and ornamented with vertical friezes of rose-cut diamonds and pearl lilies of the valley with diamond petals. Lilies of the valley, symbols of purity, youth, and innocence, were the favorite flowers of Alexandra Feodorovna, who avoided “any kind of pomp” and dedicated almost all her time to husband and children.
Lilies-of-the-Valley Egg Lilies-of-the-Valley Egg: opened view (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, workmaster M. Perkhin, miniatures by I. ZeingraphFabergé Museum
The surprise are miniature watercolor portraits of Nicholas II and their two small daughters —Olga and Tatiana—in the form of a trefoil that opens on top of the Egg when a pearl button is pushed.
Lilies-of-the-Valley Egg Lilies-of-the-Valley Egg: opened view back side (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, workmaster M. Perkhin, miniatures by I. ZeingraphFabergé Museum
On the opposite side you can easily read the date of the Easter, when the Egg was presented – April, 5 1898.
For Easter 1900, Nicholas II gave his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, a clockwork egg. It has a round clock face, covered in iridescent white guilloché enamel, with diamond Arabic numerals and filigree gold arrows. It is topped with a laurel garland of green gold with pearls and diamonds, and below it is framed as if by a lambrequin ornament, typical of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. A rather broad trellis with tassels is complemented by hanging garlands of fruits and berries; the central one used to have a small egg-shaped pearl pendant (now lost). The eggshell is covered with purple guilloché enamel, and the flat four-cornered columns supporting it are covered with oyster- white enamel.
Cockerel Egg-clock Cockerel Egg-clock: side view (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, workmaster M. PerkhinFabergé Museum
The reverse side of the egg and the filigree cap are decorated with a whimsical twining arabesque.
The surprise is a singing cockerel with natural feathers that comes out of the gold top, opens its beak, and flaps its wings.
Fiſt eenth Anniversary Egg Fiſt eenth Anniversary Egg (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of Fabergé, workmaster H. Wigström, miniatures by V. ZuevFabergé Museum
The 15-th Anniversary Egg
Giſt from the Emperor Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, for Easter of 1911. Decoration of the Egg reveals all major Events from the Emperor's reign as Tsar. They are precious frames for miniatures “artis- tically and finely accomplished,” painted in watercolor on ivory and covered with rock crystal.
There are seven portraits of the Imperial family—Nicholas II...
... Alexandra Feodorovna...
their five children, here is the portrait of young tsesarevich Alexei...
....as well as compositions depicting “the main events in the emperor’s reign.” Here is the majestic Mikhailovsky Palace –The Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III
This is the depiction of the coronation procession on Cathedral Square in the Moscow Kremlin.
Bay Tree Egg
Giſt from the Emperor Nicholas II to his mother, dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, for Easter of 1911. The thick glossy leaves of the crown, trimmed to the shape of an egg, are made of Sayan nephrite, which has a saturated spinach-green color. It is decorated with a mechanical bird of paradise with natural multicolored feathers.
Bay Tree Egg Bay Tree Egg: surprise (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of FabergéFabergé Museum
A tiny bird sang, opening its beak, flapping its wings, and turning in different directions.
The Order of Saint George Egg. The Last Symbol of a Vanished Empire
The last egg given to Maria Feodorovna by Nicholas II in 1916, during World War I, was decorated by watercolor portraits of the emperor and his son, the tsesarevich Alexei. They are covered by hinged tops with the insignias of the Order of St. George and a silver medal—the awards of the emperor and the heir. They are joined by the St. George black-and-orange ribbons in enamel in the colors of “gunpowder and flames”, which stand out clearly against the gentle background of opaque enamel, “scattered” with St. George crosses, seemingly drowning in haze.
Nicholas II, replacing the Supreme Commander Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, became head of the army and shouldered “a new responsibility.” He lived almost constantly in the staff headquarters in Mogilev and brought his son and heir with him, because he wanted the troops to see him. “For Alexei this was an enormous event in his life. It was the first time he was away from his mother and sisters for a long time and traveling with his father on real men’s work—war.” After his travels along the front, Nicholas II was awarded the Order of St. George 4th class. The tsesarevich was also recognized for being “in the area of distant fire of enemy artillery” and received a silver medal 4th class on a St. George ribbon.
The Order of Saint George Egg The Order of Saint George Egg: top view (19th - 20th Centuries) by House of FabergéFabergé Museum
The Egg is completely devoid of precious stones, complex mechanisms, and fanciful surprises. On top and bottom of the egg are the monogram of Maria Feodorovna and the date, shimmering and steely shine
Upon getting the egg, the dowager empress wrote to Nicholas II: “I kiss you thrice and thank you with all my heart for your sweet cards and charming egg with miniatures, kind Fabergé brought it himself. It’s amazing beautiful. It’s very sad not being together.” The 1916 Eggs complete the set of Imperial Easter masterpieces given to the royals. With the fall of the Russian Empire and the Romanov,s dynasty the brilliant epoch of Fabergé was to disappear. But these Easter Eggs are the exquisite symbols of the past beauty.
Enjoy watching the video with Easter Eggs revealing their surprises.
Fabergé Museum Team