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Legacy of a Fallen Dynasty
Peter Carl Faberge

Caleb Bailey, Brigham Young University
Perspectives: Student Journal of Germanic and Slavic Studies

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 Christs 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. Faberges 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 fathers profession and, in 1872, took over the family business, the House of Faberge.

Gradually Faberges 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 Alexanders untimely death in 1894, but ultimately until the fall of the Romanovs.

After his fathers 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 sons 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 fathers 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 fathers 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 Czars 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.

Pictures of select Imperial Eggs

Note: Faberge focused on his jewelrys 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 itCertainly in our line, that of the goldsmith, I would claim that no age has done more (Bainbridge 18).

The Hen Egg  1895

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

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