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Imperial Easter Eggs

Fifteenth Anniversary Easter Egg

Faberge's first Imperial Easter egg was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III in 1885. Due to its instant success, a permanent order was given to Faberge, who crafted one egg after another for the Imperial Family. Ten were for Tsar Alexander III, who gave them to his wife Maria Feodorovna until his death in 1894. An additional forty-four were created for Tsar Nicholas II from 1895 until 1916 as presents for his mother, the Dowager Empress, and for his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, thus bringing this to a total of fifty-four eggs. It is also conceivable that some eggs were given to other members of the Imperial Family. Forty-four Imperial Easter eggs are known to exist, of one we have a photograph, while a further five are known from descriptions. One of the two half-finished Imperial eggs for 1917 has also survived.

These eggs are now scattered over the world since their sale by Soviet commissars in the 1920s and 1930s. Ten have remained in the Kremlin Armoury, eleven are in the forbes Magazine Collection, thirteen are in American museums, and the remaining ten are housed in private collections.

Problems concerning the chronology of these eggs is addressed in another chapter (see Lopato, 'A Few Remarks Concerning Imperial Easter Eggs'. Suffice it so say that earlier speculative datings of eggs have been somewhat thrown into disarray due to findings in the Imperial archives.

This series of Imperial Easter eggs is the most ambitious project ever entrusted to a goldsmith. The only conditions set appear to have been an oviform shape, a surprise of some form, and no repetitions. Surprises were frequently linked to some occurrence in the history of the Imperial Family - births, anniversaries, inaugurations. Some bear royal monograms and or dates, and many exhibit miniatures of the Imperial children, or their abodes. Two contain models of Imperial vessels.
Faberge took this commission extremely seriously, often planning eggs years ahead of time. Some did indeed require several years to finish. Much secrecy surrounded the surprise in the eggs, which was never divulged in advance, not even to the Tsar himself. The solemn presentation of the egg was made by Faberge or by his son Eugene, and the recipient was invariably delighted.

The first two eggs, each with a hen motif, appear to have been designed and produced under close supervision. In the following years a certain dependence on earlier models can be detected. By the mid-1890s, however, the designs of the eggs become increasingly audacious. Among the most felicitous examples are the 1897 Coronation Coach egg, the 1898 Lilies-of-the-Valley egg, the 1899 Pansy egg, the 1901 Gatchina Palace egg, the 1913 Romanov Tercentenary egg, and the 1914 Mosaic egg. The series ends on a subdued note with two plain Red Cross eggs for 1915, the simple Order of St. George egg, and the stark Military egg for 1916.

Some of Faberge's clients dared to emulate the Imperial Family in their Easter customs, ordering their own eggs from Faberge. A documented series was commissioned by Aleksandr Ferdinandovich Kelch, the Siberian gold magnate, for his wife Barbara, nee Bazanova, between 1898 and 1904. Single eggs were also made for the Yusupovs and the Nobels.


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