Peter Carl Faberge
Legacy of a Fallen Dynasty

Caleb Bailey

In evaluating how the West perceives Russian culture and artistic heritage, the jeweled eggs of Faberge will always be considered. However, as the Western World begins to understand Russian history, much of the intrigue and significance of these creations is lost. Although each egg represents a masterpiece of fine metal and jewels, they take on a much deeper significance when examined in the context of the last days of the Romanov Dynasty, a time of turmoil that played an important part in the formation of the current Russian culture and national identity. Indeed, these eggs serve not only as mementos of fallen royalty, but they also form an artistic timeline of the history leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution and the assassination of the royal Romanov family in 1918.

Easter is the most significant holiday for the Russian Orthodox Church. Every year people prepare hard-boiled eggs and go to churches to have them blessed, which they then use as gifts in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. The Romanov family was no exception. First the czar, Alexander III, followed by his son, Nicholas II, commissioned a Faberge egg to be given each year as an Easter gift to the empress.

Peter Carl Faberge was born on May 30, 1846, to Gustav and Charlotte Faberge in Saint Petersburg. Although Russian-born, Faberge was of French Huguenot descent. After having fled French Protestant persecutions following, his family eventually ended up in Russia. Faberge’s father began working as a goldsmith and jeweler in the majestic imperial city of Saint Petersburg, and in 1842, he opened a small shop and started doing business. Carl Faberge was educated in his father’s profession and, in 1872, took over the family business, the House of Faberge.

Gradually Faberge’s work became increasingly noteworthy until it caught the eye of the empress, Maria Fedorovna. In 1885, Alexander III commissioned Faberge to create an Easter surprise for his wife. This first egg was a success. Although the outside appeared rather simple, a plain egg of white enameled gold, the inside contained a surprise: a golden yolk cradling a golden chicken in which was nested a miniature replica of the crown with a ruby hanging inside. The czarina was so delighted by the gift that the czar appointed Faberge as “Supplier to the Court of His Majesty,” giving him an open commission to create an equally fitting Easter gift for his wife each year. The only stipulation was that the gift be unique and contain some surprise. “In the famous imperial Easter eggs he used elements of architecture, sculpture, painting, pictures, and all the wealth of world jewelry” ( Ckurlov 42). Thus began the tradition of the Faberge eggs, which continued not only until Alexander’s untimely death in 1894, but ultimately until the fall of the Romanovs.

After his father’s death, Nicholas II was left to manage the affairs of state. He was twenty-five, and relatively inexperienced with political matters. In fact, his father had shown an open disdain for his son’s abilities, once remarking, “Have you ever tried to discuss anything of consequence with him? He is still absolutely a child!” (Treasures). Nicholas decided merely to keep with his father’s policy of “limited ideals of order, service, and tradition” as evidenced in his statement: “I shall maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as my unforgettable late father” (Treasures). Nicholas II renewed his father’s commission for the Easter eggs. He requested one more egg for his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, a member of the German nobility, in addition to the egg for his mother. That year Faberge presented the dowager empress with the Twelve Monograms Egg, where the late Czar’s emblem is set against a deep blue background. For the new empress he created the Rosebud egg: inside were a yellow rosebud to remind her of her homeland and a small imperial crown and pendant, symbolic of her new life and responsibilities in Russia.

Many Faberge eggs are direct depictions of historical events of the time. In 1897, Faberge presented the Coronation egg in elaborately enameled gold, complete with a miniature working replica of the coach that Nicholas and Alexandra rode to the coronation ceremonies. Faberge also commemorated the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway (1900), the tercentenary celebration of the Romanov dynasty (1913), and World War I (1916) with his masterpieces.

As the reign of Nicholas II continued, discontentment grew and Russia readied itself for change. By 1904 the situation was dangerously volatile. Leo Tolstoy pled with the czar to listen to the people and work towards national reform, writing:

a third of Russia is in a state of emergency... The army of police – open and secret – is constantly growing... the prisons, places of exile, and labor camps are overflowing... The censorship has descended to nonsensical prohibitions... Religious persecutions were never so frequent and cruel as now... Armed forces are... sent out against the people with live cartridges. In many places there has already been bloodshed between brothers, and further and more cruel bloodshed is imminent everywhere... (Letter to Nicholas II from Leo Tolstoy, 1902).

Tension mounted until it reached the breaking point on January 9, 1905, when a crowd of over a hundred thousand peasants gathered at the palace to present the czar with a list of complaints about working conditions. Nicholas refused to sympathize with his people, and when he failed to appear, soldiers panicked and began to shoot into the crowd. Although many died that day, the most significant outcome was that the people’s perception of their ruler had unalterably changed. “The myth about a kind ‘czar-priest’ was shot apart, along with the unarmed crowd” ( Nemirovskaya 313). They no longer viewed him as a divinely appointed ruler and protector, but as an uncaring tyrant. The people demanded reform, and in taking the first step away from imperial traditions, Nicholas was forced to adopt a new system of constitutional monarchy in 1905. He expressed his feelings about the reluctant change thus: "I have the firm and absolute faith that the destiny of Russia, my own fate and that of my family are in the hands of Almighty God, who has placed me where I am. Whatever may happen, I shall bow to His will, conscious that I have never had any other thought but that of serving the country He has entrusted to me” (Treasures).

As the stress of political unrest grew, Russia looked to its past, both near and distant, for moral support, and Faberge’s eggs from this period reflect this return to history. Many of the eggs served as mementoes to the royal family of better times. The Alexander Palace Egg is a replica of the Romanovs’ favorite country estate and the Standart Egg is modeled after the royal yacht. Faberge chose to embody the grandeur of past generations in many of these eggs. An example is the Peter the Great Egg, which features a recreation of Peter’s monument in St. Petersburg in the classical style. In 1913 Faberge crafted the Romanov Tercentenary Egg to commemorate the 300-year rule of the Romanov dynasty, as well as to uplift the morale of Nicholas II in the face of current political setbacks. It is a proud work, adorned externally with the faces of past rulers and containing a globe depicting the expansion of the Russian empire from the time of the first Romanov ruler.

As political stress grew still further, the emotional focus of the family turned inward, which sentiment Faberge’s eggs reflected. For example, the Mosaic Egg of 1914 contains inside of a jeweled mosaic a relief of all five royal children with their names inscribed on the back. Foremost among the eggs of this time is the Czarevich Egg, crafted in 1912. Nicholas and Alexandra had long awaited a son and heir, but when he was born, Alekcei was sick with hemophilia. He survived, and in honor of the miracle, Faberge designed this special egg for the empress with Alekcei’s picture mounted on the eagle emblem of the royal house as the surprise inside.

The last major series of events before the collapse of the Russian empire occurred during World War I, an unpopular war among the Russian people: they were fighting on behalf of others, on foreign territory, and suffering unbelievable losses. Accordingly, most of Faberge’s last eggs depict events and emotions from this conflict. The war demanded that all possible resources be devoted to armies. The Steel Military Egg from 1916 reflects this shift away from the fine things of palace life to the harsher reality of war. The egg is supported by four artillery shells, and inside is a painting of Nicholas leading his troops. The Order of St. George Egg was presented to Maria Fedorovna in 1916 in honor of her son’s military accomplishments during World War I. She cherished it so much that when she escaped Russia in 1918, she took it with her, the only egg that left Russia until the time of Stalin.

After the October revolution of 1917 and subsequent assassination of the royalty in 1918, the Faberge eggs were nearly forgotten. The house of Faberge was forced to turn its’ assets over to the new government, and Carl Faberge and his family were forced to leave the country. Author Geza von Habsburg states: “When Faberge saw all that was lost – all of the members of the Imperial family on Russian soil had been murdered – he decided that was it, his whole world had collapsed, and he fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1920 of (I would say) a broken heart” (Treasures).

As for the eggs themselves, Communist ideology held no place for extravagances such as the imperial eggs. Several were lost when the Bolsheviks looted the imperial palaces, and the rest were boxed up and stored in the vaults of the Kremlin until about 1927 when they were rediscovered by Stalin. Recognizing that such “trinkets” could easily be sold in western markets for much-needed foreign currency, Stalin had many opened and sold. Their true value was hardly fathomed at that time: rather than being recognized as masterpieces of creation and invention, they were seen merely as unwanted tokens of the imperial rule. Although curators at the Kremlin Armory tried to hide many and save what they recognized as national treasures, 14 eggs were still sold on foreign markets, sometimes for as little as 400 American dollars at art auctions. Of the 50 known eggs, eight are lost, and the rest are in various museums and private collections (see Appendix A).

Although Faberge himself was of French nationality, his work is a stunning reflection of the grandeur of the last days of the Russian empire and the Romanov dynasty. While some are indeed merely beautiful accomplishments of fine art, most eggs closely portray the emotions and events in the lives of the members of the royal family. From a country that suffered from persecution, famine, war, and ultimately revolution, the imperial Easter eggs of the House of Faberge serve as vivid insights into the last days of the Romanov dynasty.


Appendix A: List of Faberge eggs and their current whereabouts (adapted from Treasures)

1885

Hen Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1886

Hen Egg with Sapphire Pendant

Missing

1887

Blue Serpent Clock Egg

Collection of Prince Rainier III of Monaco

1888

Cherub Egg with Chariot

Missing

1889

Necessaire Egg

Missing

1890

Danish Palaces Egg

New Orleans Museum of Art

1891

Memory of Azov Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1892

Diamond Trellis Egg

Private Collection

1893

Caucasus Egg

New Orleans Museum of Art

1894

Renaissance Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1895

Twelve Monograms Egg

Hillwood Museum, Washington DC

1895

Rosebud Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1896

Revolving Miniatures Egg

Virginia Museum of Arts, Richmond

1896

Alexander III Egg

Missing

1897

Mauve Enamel Egg

Missing

1897

Coronation Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1898

Lilies of the Valley Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1898

Pelican Egg

Virginia Museum of Arts, Richmond

1899

Bouquet of Lilies Clock Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1899

Pansy Egg

Private Collection

1900

Cockerel Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1900

Trans-Siberian Railway Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1901

Basket of Wild Flowers Egg

Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

1901

Gatchina Palace Egg

The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore MD

1902

Clover Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1902

Empire Nephrite Egg

Missing

1903

Danish Jubilee Egg

Missing

1903

Peter the Great Egg

Virginia Museum of Arts, Richmond

1904

Unknown

 

1904

Unknown

 

1905

Unknown

 

1905

Unknown

 

1906

Moscow Kremlin Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1906

Swan Egg

Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Switzerland

1907

Rose Trellis Egg

The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore MD

1907

Cradle with Garlands Egg

Private Collection

1908

Peacock Egg

Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Switzerland

1908

Alexander Palace Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1909

Standart Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1909

Alexander II Commemorative Egg

Missing

1910

Alexander III Equestrian Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1910

Colonnade Egg

Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

1911

Bay Tree Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1911

Fifteenth Anniversary Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1912

Czarevich Egg

Virginia Museum of Arts, Richmond

1912

Napoleonic Egg

New Orleans Museum of Art

1913

Winter Egg

Private Collection

1913

Romanov Tercentenary Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1914

Grisaille Egg

Hillwood Museum, Washington DC

1914

Mosaic Egg

Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

1915

Red Cross Egg with Imperial Portraits

Virginia Museum of Arts, Richmond

1915

Red Cross Egg with Triptych

Cleveland Museum of Art

1916

Steel Military Egg

Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow

1916

Order of St. George Egg

Forbes Magazine Collection, New York

1917

Unknown

 

1917

Unknown

 

 


Appendix B: Timeline of major events


1842

Gustav Faberge opens shop in St. Petersburg

1846

May 30: Peter Carl Faberge (or Carl Gustavovich) is born

1872

Carl Faberge begins to manage the family firm

1881

Assassination of Alexander II and coronation of Alexander III

1885

First Imperial egg made. Faberge is appointed as court jeweler

1894

Alexander III dies and Nicholas II marries Alix von Hesse

1896

May 26: Coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra

1902

First public display of the Imperial Eggs, organized by Alexandra

1905

January 22: Bloody Sunday Massacre


Russia adopts a constitutional monarchy system of government.

1914

World War I begins

1917

Bolshevik revolution

1918

Bolshevik close the House of Faberge


The royal family are assassinated


Faberge and his family escape Russia

1920

September: Peter Carl Faberge dies in Lusanne, Switzerland

 

 


Appendix C – Pictures of select Imperial Eggs (photo source: Treasures)

Note: Faberge focused on his jewelry’s beauty and craftsmanship, not on size alone as was common in his time. His work in creating the eggs led to the discovery of new colors and methods of enameling, new mechanisms, minute machinery, and many new methods of jewelry (Chaucer). When the House of Faberge was closed and then seized during the Bolshevik revolution, most of his innovations were lost. His son, Agathon, remarked that “it is only on looking back that one sees the astonishing scope of it…Certainly in our line, that of the goldsmith, I would claim that no age has done more” (Bainbridge 18).



The Hen Egg – 1895 This first egg was the made by Faberge for the Imperial Court. It is white enamel on gold. The hen inside the yolk originally contained a diamond embedded replica of the royal crown with a ruby hanging in the middle, but those two pieces have been lost.




The Coronation Egg – 1897 This egg was made in honor of the Coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra. The egg is yellow enamel on gold. The intersections on the outside are eagles, the royal seal. The coach is an exact replica of the one they took to the coronation ceremonies, complete with working parts such as fold out stairs, authentic suspension and rock crystal windows

 

The Lilies of the Valley Egg – 1898 Pink was Alexandra’s favorite color, and her favorite flower was the lily of the valley. The pictures are of Nicholas II and his two oldest daughters. The flowers are made of pearls and diamonds.

 

 

 

 

 


The Trans-Siberian Railway Egg – 1900 This egg commemorates the completion of the trans- siberian railway line. On the silver part in the middle is etched a railway line map, with the stations of various jewels. The train is of gold and platinum with an ingenious wind-up mechanism. The cars are individually distinct: a gentlemen’s car, a restaurant, and even a traveling church are part of the foot-long locomotive.



The Alexander Palace Egg – 1908 This egg is made from carved jade and has a scale replica of the favorite country retreat. The palace model measures 2 ½ inches long.


 

The Standart Egg – 1909 Enclosed is a replica of the family yacht, reproduced in exact detail. The egg and the sea are made from rock crystal.







The Czarevich Egg – 1912 This was the most cherished egg of Alexandra Fedorovna. Her son, the heir to the throne, was sick with hemophilia. Faberge created this egg in honor of the healing. The egg is blue enamel on gold. An image of the prince sits inside the eagle symbol of the House of Romanov.




The Red Cross Egg – 1915 This egg was given to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna to recognize her charity work with the Red Cross Association during World War I. Inside are pictures of her and her four daughters, all dressed in Red Cross nurses’ robes. On the outside of the egg reads the verse “Greater love hath no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends.”





The Order of St. George – 1916 Given to Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, this egg commemorates her sons efforts in the First World War. After the Bolshevik revolution she was evacuated by the British, and took this egg with her. It is the only Faberge egg known to have left Russia before Stalin began to sell off the pieces.



The Steel Military Egg – 1916 It is not as ornate as the other eggs, but appropriately symbolizes the impact of the war on the royal family. The painting is of Czar Nicholas II directing his generals during World War I.





 

 


Works Cited

Bainbridge, Henry Charles. Peter Carl Faberge: Goldsmith and Jeweller to the Russian Imperial Court. London: Spring Books, 1949.

Ckyrlov V., and Cmorodinova G. Faberge and Russian imperial jewelers. Moscow: Terra, 1992.

McCanless, Christel Ludewig. Faberge and His Works: An annotated Bibliography of the First Century of His Art. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1994.

Nemirovskaya, Yulia. Inside the Russian Soul: a Historical Survey of Russian Cultural Patterns. Boston: McGraw-Hill Primis Custom Publishing, 2001.

Peter Carl Faberge. Chaucer Technology School. <http://www.chaucer.ac.uk/subjects/designte/ dt/carl_faberge/casestudy_faberge.htm>.

Treasures of the World: Faberge Eggs: mementoes of a doomed dynasty. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/faberge_nav/main_fabfrm.html