Maria Feodorovna and her Fabergé Eggs

March 12, 2012

It was in 1885 the whole Fabergé business, which represents today the epitome of opulence and long extinct splendor vanished after the Romanov’s death, genuinely took off  with the first Imperial order, an enameled “Hen Egg” containing a matt golden yolk that concealed a now lost replica of the Russian Crown hiding a ruby pendant (sort of matryoshka principle), commissioned by the doting Tsar Alexander III to be sent as Easter gift for his beloved wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. The idea that was to settle a whole family tradition came from a similar jewel owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Wilhelmine, a craftily designed piece which captured Maria Feodorovna’s attention during her elated childhood in Denmark, but historians can’t decide whether it belonged to Peter Karl Fabergé, the ingenious lapidary, or to the loving Tsar. Surely it would be much more romantic to give all the credits to her devoted husband who presumably knew her well enough to come up with a present since then adopted as custom, yet it’s only sentimental supposition. At any rate, the Empress liked her surprise egg so much it became a symbol of her fine tastes for almost 32 years, until the Russian Revolution destroyed all remnants of royalty, period during which 50 such works of art were produced for the Romanovs.

Empress Maria Feodorovna

Though after Tsar Nicholas II’s ascension to the throne the now famous Fabergé eggs were not exclusively offered to Maria Feodorovna but also to her daughter-in-law, the passionate Tsarina Alexandra, I find the ones dedicated to Minnie  (yes, this Mikey Mouse-ish sounding name was the manner her intimates fondly called the Empress) a tad more ornamental and brighter statements of creativity. After all, 30 of the 50 (42 presently found) were rendered honorifically to her.

From Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna:

1885 – the “Hen Egg”

the hen egg

1886 – the “Hen Egg with Sapphire Pendant” (unfortunately one of those whose trace was lost)

1887 – “Third Imperial Egg” (alas, missing, like the following two)

third imperial

1888 – “Cherub with Chariot”

1889 – “Necessaire/Pearl Egg”

1890 – “Danish Palaces Egg”

Presented to the Tsarina on April 1, this acquisition cost 4,260 silver rubles.

The ten panels added as the surprise element depict, form left to right along the screen,the imperial yacht Polar Star, Bernstorff Palace (Copenhagen), The emperor’s villa in Fredensborg park, near Fredensborg Castle, Amalienborg Palace, (Copenhagen) the quintessence of baroque style, Kronborg Castle (Helsingør), the Cottage Palace (Peterhof),  Gatchina Palace near St. Petersburg and the imperial yacht Tsarevna, all of major importance to the Empress.

Danish Palaces Egg

1891 – “Memory of Azov Egg”

One of the few eggs that never left the Russian territory, “Memory of Azov” commemorates the inopportune Oriental voyage made by Tsarevitch Nicholas and Grand Duke George at their parents’ insistence,  aboard the Pamiat Azova to the Far East in 1890.  The result of the journey was disastrous, George’s tuberculosis exacerbating contrary to the court doctor’s assumptions and the egg was quite a painful remembrance of the uninspired trip which also contained a failed assassination attempt of Nicholas, called the “Ōtsu incident”, that occurred while the brothers were in Japan.

memory of azov egg

1892 – “Diamond Trellis Egg”

With a cherub basis symbolically representing the Empress’s three sons, Nicholas, George and Michael, this egg was the first of the six Fabergé  products to contain an automaton. A mechanic elephant, reminiscing about the heraldic one on the Royal Danish Family coat of arms, currently missing, was to celebrate Maria Feodorovna’s homeland.

the diamond trellis egg

1893 – “Caucasus Egg” (firs egg known to be dated)

Of a pure ruby red, this is, with the Rosebud Egg (1895), the only one of a blood reassembling color as the reference became taboo within the Romanov family with Tsarevich Alexei’s birth and his definite signs of hemophilia.

caucasus egg

1894 –  “Renaissance Egg”

renaissance egg

From Nicholas II to Maria Feodorovna:

1895 – “Blue Serpent Clock Egg” (commissioned in honor of 25 years of marriage between the two lovely-dovey husbands, it was sadly given subsequent to Alexander III’s death by his newly made Tsar heir, Nicholas II)

blue serpent clock egg

1896 – ” 12 Monogram Egg/ Alexander III Portraits Egg

12 monogram egg

1897 – “Mauve Egg”

mauve egg

1898 – “Pelican Egg”

pelican egg

1899 – “Pansy Egg”

Having one of the most creative surprises ever to be conceived by Fabergé, a collapsible, heart-shaped gold easel surmounted by a diamond-set star of Bethlehem which reveals a series of Romanov portraits if a button is pressed so the tiny medallions could open. Certainly one of the few I genuinely gaze with awe as its sophisticated decorations blend brilliantly with the warm heritage related message.

pansy egg

1900 – “Cockerel Egg

cockerel egg

1901 – “Gatchina Palace Egg”

I really can’t put my finger on what makes this one by far my preferred Fabergé but I suppose it has to do with the golden miniature replica of Gatchina Palace, Alexander III’s most frequented residence outside Saint Petersburg, thus Maria Feodorovna’s too,  so exceedingly detailed by Mikhail Perkhin’s hand that a connoisseur would immediately discern  a statue of Paul I (1754-1801), canons, a flag waving in the wind and some faithfully realistic landscape units, needless to add the number of windows is equal to the original’s, making it even more impressive. The enamel surface is also tremendously well done and I can’t refrain contemplating the fine, delicate pattern divided into 12 panels by glossy rows of pearls, the refined strokes painted to equipoise the chromatic effect.

  It’s all very feminine, an ageless elegance and purity of style within the lines, and perhaps this contributes much to my liking the “Gatchina Egg”; in fact, I can almost feel connected to it as if the Fabergé  mastermind conceived the model considering my aesthetic compatibility with different gems, ceramics and precious metals!

If I strictly just value the other eggs, that’s the one I’d definitely yearn to purchase and exhibit in my private vitrine!

gatchina palace egg

1902 – “Empire Nephrite Egg”

empire nephrite egg

1903 – “Royal Danish Egg”

royal danish egg

1906 – “Swan Egg”

swan egg

1907 – “Love Trophies Egg”

love trophy egg

1908 – “Peacock Egg”

peacock egg

1909 – “Alexander III Commemorative Egg”

Alexander III Commemorative Egg

1910 – “Alexander III Equestrian Egg”

Alexander III equestrian egg

1911 – “Bay Tree Egg”

bay tree egg

1912 – “Napoleonic Egg”

napoleonitic egg

1913 – “Winter Egg”

I think here one can obviously detect the Art Nouveau influence on the form, design and position of the egg, made entirely of crystal and lacking the baroque symmetry in favor of simplified sumptuousness that recalls Lalique’s craft.

winter egg

1914 – “Catherine the Great Egg”

catherine the great egg

1915 – “Red Cross Portraits Egg”

Outrageously distasteful, ugly even, if you ask me! Now, I’m aware it had a political meaning, inglobing the royal  women’s solidarity with the wounded soldiers of the merely started World War I but nothing seems to excuse its bucolic  air, not the red cross, nor the small portraits of civilly looking grand ladies! Expensive as it may be, I’d never like receiving such an Easter present from my son, not when it reminds of a hospital full of bleeding men spreading the most dreadful putrefaction smell!

red cross egg

1916 – “Order of Saint George Egg”

order of st. george egg

1917 – “Birch Egg” (due to the Soviet’s coup d’état and Nicholas II’s domicile imprisonment, it never reached its rightful owner)

birch egg

Most of these archetypes of fine aristocratic taste had been displayed in Maria Feodorovna’s specially arranged vitrine similar to that in which the crème de la crème Fabergé “artifacts” were opened to the public during the 1902 Von Devis exhibition.


But what I love most about them is the luxurious world they’re exponents of, the graceful stories incorporated in their recorded history, remnants of a life plagued by the wars and the following Stalinist regime gathered in pieces of jewelry closely related to the Romanovs.


6 Responses to “Maria Feodorovna and her Fabergé Eggs”

  1. Carmen Says:

    Impressive. You’ve done a great work!

  2. CDP Says:

    Very impressive, I enjoyed the detail. I am not the “Faberge’ Egg” type but it was very interesting.

  3. Ethel Says:

    How did you get that picture of the Empire Nephrite? I can’t find that picture anywhere else…

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