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Russian Easter eggs

Russian Easter Eggs
Easter eggs are well-known Russian gifts,whose fame outside of this country is probably second only to painted wooden matryoshka dolls. Lately, however, the interest toward the Easter eggs has been of a special nature. Itis explained by its somewhat illegal status during 70 years. Antique Easter eggs were stored away in different museums, almost inaccessible to the public. It goes without saying that in Soviet times the good tradition of giving and receiving artistically painted Easter eggs on the bright holiday of Christ's Resurrection almost disappeared.

In the late 1980s forgotten customs and rituals returned, including the old Russian tradition of a triple kiss and the giving of an Easter egg. Easter eggs are exhibited in and outside of Russia. In 1990, the first exhibition of Russian porcelain Easter eggs from the National History Museum was displayed in Italy. After it, exhibitions of eggs made by the Faberge firm for the Russian imperial family, kept by museums of Moscow's Kremlin and New York's Malcolm Forbes Collection, were shown in San Diego, California, and then in Moscow. In 1992, as part of the International Sergian Congress, honoring Sergius of Radonezh, an exhibition of Easter eggs took place at the Central House of the Artist.

Recently, the famous Winter Easter Egg by Faberge, which Emperor Nicholas II gave to his mother, Empress Maria Fedorovna, for the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov, has been sold for a sensational sum of $7.5 million at a Christie's auction in Geneva. December of 1993 saw the creation in Moscow of the International Club «Ovo-art» (from Latin ovo, egg), which unites admirer, collectors, and artists. The club intends to revive in Russia the tradition of making Easter eggs and everything that was connected with them.Easter eggs are an attribute of one of the most important Christian holidays: the day of prayer for the "miraculous Resurrection" of crucified Jesus Christ.

According to a tradition, the first Easter egg was the gift from Saint Mary Magdalene coequal with the apostles to Roman Emperor Tiberius. Shortly after Christ the Savior's Ascension, Mary Magdalene came to Rome to preach the gospel. In those times, people coming to see the emperor were supposed to bring him a present. Wealthy people used to bring jewelry, and poor people, what they could afford. Therefore, Mary Magdalene, once a noble and rich woman, who then lost everything, except her faith in Jesus, offered to Emperor Tiberius a chicken egg and exclaimed: "Christ has resurrected!" The emperor, doubting her words, noted that nobody could rise from the dead and that it was as hard to believe in what she had said as in that a white egg might turn red. Tiberius was still saying those words when the egg began changing its color and turned scarlet. Thus, from the very first century of Christianity, colored eggs have always been the symbol of Jesus' Resurrection and, with it, a purification in the name of a new, better life to the believers in God the Son. The eggs' red color has symbolized Christ's blood and at the same time was the symbol of the Resurrection. If a man keeps the sacred commandments, he communicates with the expiatory virtues of the Savior and new life. «A believer, even if he dies, will revive,* says Christ, «and I shall revive him.» Just like the life hidden in an egg is born from it, the Son of God rose from the tomb and the dead will rise for eternal life.

By giving each other Easter eggs, Christians profess the faith in their Resurrection. If Christ's Resurrection had not taken place, then, according to Apostle Paul, the new faith would not have had a foundation or value, it would have been vain: not bringing salvation nor saving us. But Christ resurrected, the first of all who had been born on Earth, and by having done so he demonstrated his power and Divine blessing.

The egg is present in yet another legend about a miraculous resurrection. A poor trades man in eggs was going to the marketplace. On his way, he met Jesus carrying the cross. Putting aside his load, the tradesman helped Him carry the cross. When the poor man returned to his goods, he discovered that the eggs were no longer white but of various colors.

Why was it the egg which became one of the proofs of the Resurrection of the Son of God? In ancient times, the egg was attributed a magic significance. Eggs - both natural and made of different materials, like marble, clay, etc.- are found in graves, mounds, and at other burial sites of the pre-Christian epoch. Archeological excavations have unearthed carved and natural ostrich and chicken eggs, sometimes painted ones.

All world mythologies have legends treating the egg as a symbol of life, renewal, as a source of origin of all that exists in this world. Oriental cultures believed that there was a time when chaos reigned everywhere, and that chaos was contained in an enormous egg holding all forms of life. Fire was warming its shell, giving the egg the warmth of creation. It was owing to this divine fire that a mythical creature - Panu - emerged from the egg. All things weightless became the Sky, and all things dark became the Earth. As it grew, Panu became the Universe, united the Sky and the Earth, created the wind, space, clouds, thunder, and lightning. To heat the newly born Earth, Panu gave it the Sun, and to remind it about the cold, it gave it the Moon. Thanks to Panu, the Sun warmed the Earth, the Moon shined, and planets and stars were born.

Since ancient times, the egg has been the symbol of a transition from nonexistence to existence. It was perceived as spring sun, bringing life, joy, warmth, light, rebirth of nature, and liberation from the grip of frost, ice, and snow. Once it was customary to give away an egg as a simple, little offering to pagan gods, to give eggs to friends and benefactors - on the first day of the New Year and on birthday. Rich people, instead of painted chicken eggs, often offered golden or gilded eggs, symbolizing the Sun.

Ancient Romans had the custom of eating a baked egg before a festive meal. That was symbolically linked to a successful beginning of a new pursuit. John of Damascus, a Byzantine theologian and philosopher, says that the sky and earth are in every way similar to the egg: the shell corresponds to the sky; the membrane, to the clouds; the white, to water; and the yolk, to earth. The lifeless matter of the egg produces life; it contains the possibility, the idea, movement, and development. According to traditions, the egg gives the force of life even to the dead; through it, they feel the spirit of life and regain lost forces. There is a primeval belief that thanks to the miraculous force of the egg it is possible to contact the dead, as though temporarily returning to life. If you put the first painted egg you receive on Easter on a tomb, the dead man will hear all the words addressed to him, as though returning to life and to what makes a living person happy or sad.

The earliest recorded testimony about Holy Easter painted eggs is found in a 10th-century parchment manuscript kept in the Saint Anastasia Convent, close to Salonika in Greece. At the end of the church rubric, after the Easter prayers, the manuscript says that a prayer blessing eggs and cheese is also read and that the father superior, kissing the brethren, gives them eggs and says, "Christ has resurrected!" According to the manuscript «Nomocanon by Dhotius» (13th century), the father superior even punishes the monk who fails to eat a red egg on Easter, because such a monk resists apostolic traditions. Thus, the practice of giving Easter eggs dates back to apostolic times, when Mary Magdalene was the first to give the believers an example of this joyful offering. The celebration of Easter in Russia was introduced in the late 10th century. Orthodox Easter is observed on the first Sunday following the spring equinox and March full moon.

Easter in Russia was accompanied by ceremonies that came from pagan times but now consecrated by the Light of Christ. They were the consecration of Easter cakes, the preparation of cheese mass, the painting of eggs, etc. On Easter an egg was put in a wheat tub, and the grain was kept until spring to be sown.

Easter coincides with the time when spring comes. By this day, as a sign of blossom, boiled eggs used to be painted in different colors from time immemorial. Once, these represented the flowers of the Spring God, Yarila; they were laid out on green grass. The greenery was grown this way- they took hemp tow and fiber, wrapped seeds into them, watered them daily on a plate, and by Easter they would sprout grass. On it, eggs were put; by the Great Day (as Easter is sometimes referred to in Russia) various viands were prepared, the meaning of which was Spring, Warmth, Fire, Life, and Love.

Easter in Russia, according to Y.P. Mirolyubov, a student of the Russian popular tradition, has always had a universal, comprehensive nature. The Great Day was a church celebration, a ritual, human happiness, etc. Happiness on this day is all - embracing; people are gladdened by everything: the warmth, the light, the sky, the earth, the relatives, friends, strangers, and one's own people. After a long and hard winter, the snows melt, jolly springs run, the ground dries rapidly, and the trees blossom. The holiday of Christ's Resurrection is at the same time the resurrection of nature, of a renewed life. Russian spring is distinguished by an unusual tenderness, warmth, and constancy, and Easter is the Blessing of life itself - because there is no death! It was vanquished by the one who rose from the tomb on the Third Day.
Every nation has its own holidays, but among them there is a principal one. In Russia, such has for centuries been Holy Easter. The church celebration is indeed grandiose. The church prepares itself step by step to the joy of Christ's Resurrection. The week preceding Easter follows an increasingly busy schedule of religious activities.

The tradition of giving and receiving painted eggs on Easter has existed in Russia from time immemorial. Once, in the reign of Czar Alexis (1645-1676), some 37,000 eggs were prepared by Easter to be given out. Along with natural (chicken, swan, goose, pigeon, and duck) painted eggs, there were carved and painted wooden and bone ones. Naturally, the standard for the size of these Russian gifts - eggs made of wood, bone, porcelain, glass, and stone was set by the size of natural eggs.

In 1664, Drocopius Ivanov, herbal ornamental design artist of the Trinity-Sergius Monastery, was summoned to Moscow to paint eggs. Two years later he brought to the court 170 wooden eggs painted over gold «in various colored paints in beautiful herbal patterns. Ivan Petrov Masyukov, disciple of (Sergey Rozhkov, a well-known icon painter, painted chiseled eggs over a double layer of gold. Bogdan tSaltanov, royal icon painter of Armenian extraction, gave Czar Alexis for Easter in 1675 an original gift: «three platters: one containing five goose eggs with gilded herbal designs, another containing, seven duck eggs decorated in various colors over gold, and the third containing seven chicken eggs gilded lavishly; in addition, a mica box with forty chicken eggs decorated in various colors over gold.» In 1677, almost all the craftsmen of the Armory were busy making Easter presents for Czar Fedor in the form of eggs. In 1680, (Saltanov, who painted icons on taffeta, that is, did painting on fabric with applique work for iconostases of Kremlin churches, provided the court with 50 painted eggs. In February of 1690, icon painter Basil Ruzmin, disciple of (Simon Ushakov, and Nicephorus Bavykin, gratified royal icon painter, painted in «various colored paints» chiseled wooden eggs made «in imitation of chicken, duck, and pigeon ones.» In 1694, eggs were painted by the sons of an outstanding painter of the Armory, Fedor Zubov: Ivan and Alexei, a future founder of the school of Russian historic prints. In the 18th-19th centuries, artistically decorated Easter eggs become so widespread among the various segments of the Russian population that from that time it is possible to speak about Easter eggs as a peculiar type of popular decorative applied art, popular Russian souvenirs.

By that time, both precious jewelry eggs and simple peasant pisanki (painted eggs) and krashcnki (dyed eggs) had become fairly traditional. The look of jewelry Easter eggs was changing with time. The pisanki and krashenki of the peasants were less susceptible to stylistic change. Russian applied arts of the 18th century acquired a qualitatively different nature compared to the art of preceding centuries. It became distinctly secular; this was connected in the first place with the economic, political, and cultural reforms conducted by Peter the Great. Russia began its entry into the pan-European artistic process. The development of the fine arts and the decorative applied arts followed a single course.

In 1703, Peter the Great founds a city on the Neva, which in 1712 becomes the capital of the Russian state. (Saint Petersburg becomes the center of the economic, political, and cultural life of the country. The czar, who permanently needs skillful artists and craftsmen, summons the best ones from Moscow Armory's studios and workshops to (St. Petersburg. An especially large number of Moscow skilled craftsmen (gunsmiths, jewelers, engravers, and others) was sent from the Kremlin to St. Petersburg under the czar's edict in 1711. By the late 1720's, a little over a fourth of the original number of the various craftsmen remained in the Armory. Thus the center of applied arts gradually moved from the Kremlin's artistic studios to St. Petersburg.

The Office of Buildings, having taken over from the former Moscow Armory, became the leading agency in the new capital's artistic life. The nature of work in the Office of Buildings in the 18th century remained the same that had existed in the Armory's studios and workshops, where the painters, in addition to decorating churches and royal chambers, had to make drawings of cities and drawings for engraving and to decorate banners. At the discretion of state grandees, the painters were to decorate fun books, checkerboards, small boxes or cases for valuables, and, what particularly interests us, Easter eggs. Moreover, they worked on grates, poles, tubes, stoves, and other projects of applied nature.

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