Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Faberge Eggs
Standing on average three to six inches tall, these miniature treasures crafted by hand out of precious metals and jewels came to symbolize the last czars of Russia, Alexander III and Nicholas II and tell a story of the royal family. In Post - Soviet Russia the Faberge Eggs became a window into the story of the fall of the three hundred year royal dynasty. Until Peter Carl Faberge's miniature treasures attracted the eye of Czarina Maria Fedorovna, wife of the second - to - last czar, Alexander III, Russian jewelery was judged on carat size (bigger was always better). Faberge's pieces went against the trend, employing detailed handwork and (comparatively) subtle decoration. The Czarina loved his work so much that the Czar commissioned an egg from Faberge for the couple's twentieth anniversary. Hidden inside the egg was a gold chicken, crown, and a ruby egg, now lost. Maria Fedorovna was delighted with her present and until Alexander's death in October of 1894 at age forty - nine, Faberge made an egg for the royal family every Easter, which fell on the most important holiday in the Russian Orthodox church. When the inexperienced heir Nicholas II was crowned czar, the tradition changed - his widowed mother and his wife, Alexandra both received eggs. Each egg was unique and hand made, created to reflect the life of the royal family. Many eggs featured family portraits, sometimes of a particular person such as heir Alexei. All eggs had a hidden surprise such as a miniature replica of the royal family's private train or images of Czarina Alexandra's homeland in Germany. Faberge's attention to detail is still mind boggling - photos of the royal family's carriage made for an egg were used for reference when the original carriage was restored and the miniature train from another egg still runs today. While even the most expensive eggs cost under $10,000 the extravagance they symbolized upset the starving populace and came to represent the corruption and antiquated czarist rule. Nicholas II and Alexandra along side their four daughters and son preferred to live private lives, alienating them even more from their people which would prove all too disastrous. World War I was the straw that broke the camel's back - Nicholas II replaced a beloved general with himself even though he had no military genius and Alexandra became an object of ridicule among her own subjects when she and her daughters under went training to become nurses. Add that to the fact she was sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany who were Russia's enemies and the royal family's days were numbered.The last eggs made by Faberge were spartan - made of iron since gold and silver were scarce and lacking the intricate details of his normal work since most of his employees were on the battle field - their main attraction being the fold out picture of Alexandra and in descending age - Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia - in their nurse uniforms. March 1918 marked the end of many traditions - the Romanovs were forced to abdicate, czar autocracy died, and the end of the Faberge eggs. Fifty eggs had been made - each different, all valuable, beyond their jewels.Dowager Czarina Maria Fedorovna escaped with a single egg to England. Many were lost, but the remaining eggs were sold by the Bolsheviks under $1,000 a piece. The Great Depression made selling the eggs more difficult and they made no where the value Faberge's son had appraised them to be. Faberge himself died in 1920 under exile in Sweden, supposedly from a broken heart as he saw the forthcoming destruction of his greatest works. It was lucky he never lived to see the fate of his masterpieces; sold for pennies, several eggs missing their surprises, or damaged. To the Bolsheviks the eggs represented all that was rotten with the Romanov dynasty. The sooner the eggs left Russia, the better. What could not be sold Lenin had boxed up, treated as garbage, not to be seen for years. Yet, this was not the end of the egg's bizarre history.Post - Soviet Russia now boosts the largest collection of Faberge Eggs in one place - 10; now seen as the artistic wonders they were, the eggs now sell for millions of dollars. Remaining eggs are scattered across the globe - Elizabeth II, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and several self made American families (Post, Forbes, and so on) own eggs. Eight eggs, five of which are pre-1900, have disappeared from sight. The search for these missing wonders continues and maybe one day we can have all fifty eggs together, lined up and follow the story of the last two czars and their families. Faberge never recovered from the end of his celebrity for his lovingly crafted masterpieces. Now, he would be astonished to see his workmanship is what gives the Faberge Eggs their true value -
"The intrinsic value of the egg is comparatively quite low," says Von Habsburg. "The Winter Egg consists of two blocks of rock crystal – a couple of thousand dollars – a bit of platinum and some three thousand minute rose cut diamonds – another couple of thousand dollars. So all in all, if you break this egg up, what is it worth? Four or five thousand dollars. What are you paying for? The vision and genius of Fabergé!"
For more information please visit http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/faberge_nav/main_fabfrm.html

1 comment:

Cary said...

Thanks so much for this excellent and informative post! The detail and craftsmanship that went into each egg is just mind-boggling. Have you ever seen an actual Faberge egg? I work for Positively Cleveland, and right now we're working to get the word out about an upcoming at the Cleveland Museum of Art. It's called "Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique", and will feature exquisite examples of each artist's work. If you get a chance the exhibit is well worth a trip to see these beautiful treasures in person. You can find more information at http://www.clemusart.com/exhibitions/artisticluxury.aspx. Additionally, Cleveland has many other destinations including the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame: http://www.positivelycleveland.com/visiting/things_to_do/cleveland_rocks/rock_hall. There's something for everyone and lots to explore!

I hope I haven't overstepped my bounds by leaving this comment. I'm just trying to get the word out about this amazing exhibit so as many people as possible can have the experience of seeing this art with their own eyes. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to E-Mail me. I'd love to hear from you :)

Cary A. Andrews
Positively Cleveland