Treasures of the World
© Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
◦ Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
◦ Nicholas and Romanov Russia
◦ Nicholas and Alexandra
◦ The tragic events that followed the coronation of Nicholas II
◦ Bloody Sunday
◦ Signs of revolution
◦ The inventive young Faberge
◦ Faberge's growing fame
◦ The Faberge Imperial Easter eggs featured in the Series
◦ The House of Faberge
◦ The workshops and workmasters
◦ Faberge the man
◦ Outrageous opulence
◦ Fragile remembrances
◦ The fate of the eggs ◦
Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
Easter is the most joyful celebration
of the Orthodox faith in Russia...
After the devout church services, families gather to exchange gifts
of decorated eggs, symbols of renewed life and hope. The Easter of 1885
also marks the twentieth anniversary of Czar Alexander III and Czarina
Maria Fedorovna, and the Czar needs an exceptional gift for his wife.
So he places an order with a young jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge, whose
beautiful creations have recently caught Maria's eye.
On Easter morning, Faberge delivers to the palace what appears to be
a simple enameled egg. But to the delight of the Empress, inside is
a golden yolk; within the yolk is a golden hen; and concealed within
the hen is a diamond miniature of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg
- both now lost to history.
His wife's delight is all Czar Alexander needs to reward Faberge with
a commission for an Easter egg every year. The requirements are straightforward:
each egg must be unique, and each must contain a suitable surprise for
the Empress. With consummate craftsmanship and an inventive spirit,
Faberge repeatedly meets the challenge, borrowing inspiration from the
gilded lives of the Czar and Czarina.
In October of 1894 the Czar's health fails. He dies suddenly in the
prime of life, and his son, Nicholas II, unwillingly ascends the throne.
"My God! The Lord has called our deeply beloved Papa to him.
My head is spinning. What is going to happen to me? To Russia? I am
not prepared to be a Czar. I never wanted to become one."
(October 20, 1894. from the letters of Nicholas II)
Untrained in the business of ruling one-eighth of the world's population
and purposely cut off from progressive thinking by his parents, Nicholas
embraces the limited ideals of order, service and tradition.
"So to make sure that he didn't make any mistakes," explains
author Lynette Proler, "he decided that the easiest course for
him was to continue everything that his father had done."
But Russia has not kept pace with the rapid changes in economic and
political life taking place elsewhere in Europe. But Nicholas holds
firmly to his belief in the preservation of the monarchy and opposes
any concessions to those favoring more democracy in government. Yet
he shows little aptitude for ruling, vacillating on important issues,
coming across as weak and contradictory. And there are omens, signs
that trouble looms on Russia's horizon.
Nicholas' rigid adherence to convention applies as deliberately to
the established customs within the court and family as to the affairs
of state. "And of course, the Easter eggs was a tradition that
was started by his father, and Nicholas decided to carry it on,"
adds Proler. So Czar Nicholas orders the continuation of the annual
commission of a Faberge Easter egg for his mother and adds a second
order to be delivered each year to his wife, the new Czarina Alexandra
So imaginatively conceived and opulently executed, Faberge's work elevates
jewelry to a decorative art unequaled since the Renaissance. At the
1900 World Exhibition in Paris, the Imperial eggs are shown in public
for the first time. They astound the jury, which showers him with honors,
and Faberge's fame spreads throughout Europe. The novelty of combining
artistic excellence with functional value Ц and a touch of whimsy Ц
so captures the imagination of the aristocracy that the Faberge workshops
are flooded with commissions, transforming an ordinary goldsmith shop
into the famous "House of Faberge." But though aristocrats,
barons of industry, kings and queens alike all cross his threshold seeking
gifts, Faberge's first duty is always to the Czar.
Nicholas loves the pomp and ritual of military life and Imperial ceremony,
which require him only to look good and say little. But he shows little
aptitude for ruling, vacillating on most important issues, coming across
as weak and contradictory, though he firmly opposes any much-needed
political or social reforms. Over the years, the royal couple increasingly
insulate themselves from politics and the intrigues of the court, preferring
instead the comfortable sphere of family and life's less complicated
decisions. So Faberge makes a point of learning something of the interests
and achievements of the Romanovs, fashioning the memorable moments of
their lives into Easter gifts to delight and surprise them.
By 1901, Nicholas and Alexandra have been blessed with four daughters,
and in 1904 an anxiously awaited boy and heir to the throne is born.
Over the years, the royal couple increasingly insulate themselves from
politics and the intrigues of the court, preferring instead the comfortable
sphere of family and life's less complicated decisions. So Faberge makes
a point of learning something of the personal interests and public achievements
of the Romanovs, fashioning the memorable moments of their lives into
Easter gifts to delight and surprise them.
Year by year, Faberge's Imperial Easter eggs reach new heights of
invention and extravagance, expressions in miniature of the life of
imperial privilege. According to author and Faberge expert, Geza von
Habsburg, "They are the absolute summit of craftsmanship. They
are unbelievably made. They were the sort of apogee of what Faberge
was able to do, and he lavished everything he could on them." Ultimately,
these eggs would become painful reminders of the tragic events to come.
But most Russians have no time for toys, and ultimately, these eggs
would become painful reminders of tragic events to come. Hopeless wars,
famine, disease and despair are unraveling the fabric of faith the Czar's
people once had in the divine right and benevolence of the monarchy.
Cut off from politics and growing unrest, Nicholas continues to oppose
any political or social reforms: "I shall maintain the principle
of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as my unforgettable late
father!" Choosing to believe in the unfailing devotion of his people,
Nicholas becomes a prisoner of his illusions.
By 1914, Russia is at war with Germany, and at first the simmering
discontent of the nation is cooled by patriotic unity in defense of
Mother Russia. But Russia's dismal economic conditions make it impossible
for Nicholas to sustain the war effort against powerful, industrialized
Germany. By 1917, famine threatens the country. Riots and strikes demanding
bread are commonplace in Moscow and St. Petersburg. When the Imperial
troops join the demonstrators, the government collapses to the revolution.
On March 15th, with neither the support of the people nor the aristocracy,
Nicholas is forced to abdicate.
All the elements of the Romanov story come together most elegantly
in the Fifteenth Anniversary egg (1911), a family album just over five-inches-tall.
Exquisitely detailed paintings depict the most notable events of the
reign of Nicholas II and each of the family members. "Not only
is it a staggering tour-de-force of the jeweler's art," says Forbes,
"but probably more than any other egg, it is the one most intimately
associated with the whole tragedy of Nicholas and Alexandra and that
incredibly beautiful family. There are these five children Ц all these
sort of glamorous events surrounding their lives Ц and there they are
looking out at us happily unknowing what was going to happen to them
just a few years later."
During the first months of Russia's involvement in World War I, the
simmering discontent of the troubled nation is cooled by patriotic unity
in defense of the motherland. But the Russia's dismal economic conditions
make it impossible for Nicholas to sustain the war effort against powerful,
industrialized Germany. By 1917, famine threatens the country. Riots
and strikes demanding bread are commonplace in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
When the Imperial troops join the demonstrators, the government collapses
to the revolution. On March 15th, with neither the support of the people
nor the aristocracy, Nicholas is forced to abdicate.
The next day, a decree is passed ordering the arrest of Nicholas II
and all other members of the Romanov family. The Czar and his family
are arrested and eventually removed to Siberia where they are held captive
for over a year. In the chilly pre-dawn hours of July 17th, 1918, Nicholas
and Alexandra, with their five children - Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia
and Alexei - are herded into a basement and executed.
Of the immediate family, only Nicholas' mother, the Dowager Empress
Maria Fedorovna, would escape the assassin's bullet. As she makes a
hasty departure from her homeland, she brings with her the Order of
St. George egg, the last Faberge Imperial Easter egg she will ever receive
from her son Nicholas, once the Czar of all the Russias.
In the harsh light of historical hindsight, the Faberge Imperial Easter
eggs can be seen as nothing more than the frivolous indulgences of a
decadent monarchy, perfect symbols of the fragile Romanov dynasty under
the last Czar.
The eggs represent a unique synergy of opulence, romance, expansiveness
and creativity. No one but Faberge could have created such masterpieces,
and no one but the Romanovs could have inspired them.
Faberge's Imperial Easter eggs endure as fragile mementos of the doomed
Russian dynasty, each not only an artistic masterpiece, but a remarkable
reflection of the joys and achievements of a family at the crossroads
The true worth of the eggs lies in the very personal glimpse they
provide into the life of a family - an extraordinary family, but a family
all the same.