I had never been to Russia, so I really looked forward to going there! I was most interested in learning more about the Russian people. Face to face, one on one. This did not happen. The Russians that escorted us at all times were friendly, but in a guarded kind of way. I just had the feeling they didn’t want you to ask any questions that wasn’t related to the excursion or the topic at hand. They seemed edgy to me. Most of our guides were younger than forty and two of them younger than thirty. They spoke good English, but kept to the topic at hand and didn’t offer any background other than what was clearly on a rehearsed script.
With that said, the other thing I was interested in, was the living conditions in St Petersburg. How do people get around? What kind of housing do they have? What kind of entertainment? How many restaurants are there? I wanted to know. But, I was clearly disappointed in getting any of that information from the guides. So with these photos and before we get to the museum, I want to show you and tell you, what I thought about the city of St Petersburg.
There are rows and rows and rows of gray concrete housing. Some looked like they could use a good cleaning and none looked welcoming. When we went out at night and rode through the city on the tour bus there were no lights on in the apartment windows. Now, I do know all the lights in the Baltic countries seemed very dim to me. They are very eco-conscious or very thrifty or both. But, I would think there would be lights on if someone lived in these apartments. I found it a bit puzzling………
In the main tourist areas the buildings were kept up better. They were painted in pleasing colors and clean.
The most important state owned buildings were in a specific cluster of the city. They were not spread out.
There were some favorite (American and other countries) chain businesses. Seen here is Starbucks.
There were small splashes of gardens here and there.
There was a canal system that would have the effects of Venice, if the weather was nicer.
There was artwork on many of the state-owned buildings and some statues along the canals…..
And guidance written in English.
There were boats for tourists to ride along the canal, but I never saw one moving.
OK, maybe one.
Our ride through the streets of St Petersburg, were the same everyday. We never once drifted from the assigned route. Is this due to the most direct and most convenient route for the buses to take? Or, is it they don’t want us to see much past the best of what St Petersburg has to offer? I think maybe a little of both. Finally, we came to the Faberge Museum, shown in the Featured Photo on the blog today. The museum is located in the center of St Petersburg at the Shuvalov Palace on the Fontanka River. Viktor Vekselberg opened the museum to repatriate lost cultural valuables to Russia. There are more than 4000 works of art, including gold, silver and bronze items, but the highlight of the museum is the group of nine Imperial Easter Eggs made for the last two Romanov tsars of Russia. Work on the palace began in 2006 and it was the first time in two hundred years that the entire palace had been refurbished to its glory days. The grand opening was in November, 2013.
To my greatest surprise was the background of the eggs. In 2004, Viktor Vekselberg bought the nine imperial eggs from the collection of the Malcom Forbes estate. Originally, the eggs were to be auctioned off one at a time. Mr Vekselberg offered the estate 100 million dollars for the entire collection before they went to auction. He wanted to bring all the eggs back to Russia where they belong. I agree with him. They should be in Russia, so the Russian people can see them.
In total there are fifteen Fabergé eggs in the Blue Room as well as a miniature frame in the shape of a heart……..it was the “surprise” from the lost Mauve Egg of 1897.
So, I had a few questions……..who made these Imperial Eggs? And why?
Peter Carl Fabergé was the son of a jeweler. They owned the House of Fabergé in St Petersburg, Russia. When Peter was fourteen the family left Russia and went to Germany. Peter went on to study at the Dresden Arts and Crafts School as a jewelry maker and excelled as a goldsmith. He then returned to St Petersburg, where he worked at the Hermitage, cataloguing, repairing and restoring gold and other precious metal pieces. At the Pan-Russian Exhibition held in Moscow in 1882, Fabergé was awarded a gold medal and the St Stanisias Medal. For this exhibition Fabergé had made a replica of a 4th-century BC gold bangle from the Scythian Treasure in the Hermitage. The Tsar, Alexander III, declared he could not distinguish Fabergé’s work from the original and from then on The House of Fabergé was the focus of the Imperial Court. The very first so-called Fabergè egg, the Hen Egg, was given as a gift from the Tsar to his wife on Orthodox Easter, 1885. She was so delighted with it, Fabergé was given the title Goldsmith by Special Appointment to the Imperial Crown. He then was commissioned for another egg for the next year. He was given complete freedom for the design of any future Imperial Easter Eggs and their designs became more and more elaborate. Not even the Tsar knew what form the eggs would take; the only requirements were that each egg must contain a surprise and be unique. It should be noted that at this time Carl Fabergé made other jewelry and fine art pieces, including eggs, and sold them to wealthy families.
Upon the death of Alexander III, the next Tsar, Nicholas II, followed with the tradition and also requested there be two eggs a year, one for his mother (who eventually had 30 eggs) and one for his wife, who received 20. All of these eggs were deemed “Imperial Easter Eggs” and the tradition continued until the October Revolution when the entire Romanov family was executed and the eggs and many other treasures were confiscated by the interim government. The last two eggs were never delivered nor paid for.
The eggs and other artifacts were taken to the Kremlin Armory in Moscow. The House of Fabergé was confiscated and nationalized. Carl Fabergé and his family, fearing the worst, fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1920. His family said he died of a broken heart.
Then what happened to the Imperial Eggs? For a long time they were kept under guard at the Kremlin Armory. By 1927, Stalin determined that the eggs, and other Russian jewels and precious artifacts should be sold to support his regime. Little by little the Russian Jewels left Russia and were sold to the highest bidder.
How did Malcolm Forbes collect so many Imperial Eggs?
In 1965, Forbes bought his first Fabergé egg, however not an Imperial Egg. It was a jelly-bean-size egg emblazoned with a red cross, depicting the role of a Russian noblewoman with the Red Cross during WWI. He went on to collect full-size Fabergé eggs, plus the coveted Imperial Easter Eggs, determined to possess more eggs than the Soviet government. He was obsessed to out-do the Kremlin.
So, with that brief history of the Imperial eggs, let’s go in the Fabergé Museum.
Inside, at first glance, are the fancy doors and windows……
Going to the famous Blue Room…….
And a look up at the intricate ceiling……….
And here is the First Hen Egg made in 1885! While all the eggs were produced from the House of Fabergé, Fabergé himself is not known to ever have participated in the construction of any of them. He designed the egg, but the crafting for the eggs was done in the workshop. This egg was made by Erik Kollin. It is made from gold completely covered with opaque white enamel to look like a real egg. The two halves fit together and twist to open, revealing the eggs “surprise,” a round yolk of gold with a matte finish. The yolk opens to reveal a gold hen with ruby eyes. The tail feathers were also hinged and opened to reveal a gold and diamond replica of the imperial crown and a tiny, ruby pendant that was suspended on a chain. Both the crown and pendant are now lost. Many of the “surprises” in the eggs are missing. I think they would have been easier to carry off or used as bribery to get the eggs out of Russia, don’t you?
Notice also the serpent bangle on display………how it all started!
The Cockerel Egg, or Cuckoo Clock Egg, was given for Easter in 1900. The egg has a mechanism on the top and that enables the bird to come out and move. It is made from gold, diamonds rubies, pearls and enamel.
And it also had a clock!
The Fifteenth Anniversary Egg, was a gift to Tsaritsa Alexandra in 1911, from her husband Tsar Nicholas II, and commemorates the fifteenth anniversary of the coronation of Nicholas II on May 26, 1896. The egg is made of gold, green, and white enamel, and decorated with diamonds and rock crystal. The surface is divided into eighteen panels set with sixteen miniatures. There is no “surprise” in the egg, contrary to the Tsar’s explicit instructions and the explanation was never made.
This is the Bay Tree Egg that was given to the Tsar’s mother in 1911. Once know as the Orange Tree Egg, this egg has a tiny lever disguised as a fruit hidden among the leaves of the bay tree. The lever activates the circular top of the tree and a feathered songbird rises and flaps its wings, turns it’s head, opens it’s beak and sings. I think Mama got the best egg of 1911! It is so big, I photographed it in two photos, the top of the tree and the bottom. This egg is made of gold, green and white enamel with jade, diamonds, rubies, amethysts, citrines (a type of quartz), pearls, and white onyx!
The Duchess of Marlborough Egg, also known as the Pink Serpent Egg, was made by Michael Perchin, under the supervision of Carl Fabergé, in 1902. It is the only large Fabergé Egg commissioned by an American. It was inspired by a Louis XVI clock with a revolving dial. The egg was made for Consuelo Vanderbilt, who became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895, when she married Charles-Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough……….The Duke and Duchess had seen the egg collection when visiting the Tsar of Russia and his mother in 1902. In 1926, after her divorce from the Duke of Marlborough, she donated the egg to a charity auction. It was bought by the second wife of Harold Fowler McCormick of the International Harvester Company and when she died in 1965, it was bought by Malcolm Forbes. It was his first big egg purchase.
The Order of St George Egg, was made during WWI to commemorate the award of the Order of St George, that Nicholas II and his son, Grand Duke Alexei received. The egg was a modest design in keeping with the austerity of WWI. Nicholas’s mother took the egg with her when she traveled to Kiev in May of 1916, to avoid the problems with the Russian people at the time. The new Russian Provisional Government forced her to travel to Crimea, where she fled on board the HMS Marlborough. She died in Denmark in 1928 and many of her eggs were inherited by family members, who later put them up for sale at Sotheby’s. This was the last egg given to her from her son.
The Renaissance Egg, given to his wife in 1894, from Alexander III of Russia, was the last egg given to her. The “surprise” of the jeweled, agate egg is lost, but is speculated that the “surprise” was pearls.
The Coronation Egg is made of gold with a translucent lime yellow field of starbursts fashioned after the cloth-of-gold worn by the Tsarina at her Coronation. It is trellised with bands of greenish-gold laurel leaves mounted at each intersection by the gold double-headed eagle and set with a rose diamond on his chest. At the top of the egg is a cluster of ten diamonds and through the diamonds the monogram of the Empress can be seen. At the smaller end, a small portrait is set in a cluster of rose diamonds and 20 narrow gold petals. Inscribed in it, is the date 1897. The egg included a glass-enclosed jadeite stand for the display of the carriage.
The Imperial Coach, only four inches long, is a precise replica of the 18th-century Imperial Coach that carried Tsarina Alexandra to her coronation in Moscow at the Uspensky Cathedral. The red color was made from strawberry colored translucent enamel. The coach is surrounded by rose diamonds and six double-headed eagles on the roof. It is engraved with rock crystal windows and platinum tires decorated with gold. The miniature has moving wheels, opening doors, C-spring shock absorbers, and a tiny folding stair-step! The missing “surprises” are the diamond and emerald pendant that hung inside the coach and the stand for the display of the carriage made of silver-gilt wire.
The Lilies of the Valley Egg, is one of two in the Art Nouveau style. (the other is the Pansy Egg) Nicholas gave this egg to his wife in 1898. It is covered in pearls and topped with rose pink enamel. It has legs of green-gold leaves with rose-cut diamond dew drops and flowers made of gold set with rubies, pearls and diamonds. The “surprise” is elevated out of the egg by twisting a gold-mounted pearl button. When fully raised three portraits are visible under the Imperial Crown set in a ruby. Tsar Nicholas II and his two oldest daughters, Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duchess Tatiana are painted on ivory inside the lockets. The portraits are framed in rose diamonds and backed with gold panels engraved with the presentation date.
PS If you are a Peaky Blinders fan this egg made an appearance in the cellar scene in Season 3 Episode 5, where Alfie Solomons was inspecting a collection of jewels for Tommy Shelby.
That’s just part of the collection of art to be found at the Fabergé Museum……. There are also the tiny eggs meant to be worn on a chain………….
and the Jeweled Picture Stand………the “surprise” from the Mauve Egg, but the egg is missing!
There is a room devoted to jeweled boxes………and other fancy jewelry items……like cigarette cases and such.
After seeing the museum we headed to the café located downstairs. Some of the desserts offered were in the shape of eggs!
and the Café itself was in the shape of an egg………..
but, the decor was a little wild!
We had a great time in the Fabergé Museum and learned a lot! It was not nearly as crowded as the Hermitage, so that made the experience even better! What will we see next in St Petersburg? Find out soon!
6 Comments Add yours
Thanks for the Tour and history lesson, both very interesting.
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Now I see why the Faberge eggs are so very, very special. I had no idea! Gorgeous and exquisite at the same time, nothing gaudy, everything in good taste. I am astounded at the craftsmanship involved in carving/fashioning/shaping the miniatures, especially the coronation carriage. I’m surprised that you were allowed to take close-ups of each piece, but glad you were.
What I mentioned before in comments to your previous post on Russia — being restricted by taciturn guides — shows up here in this museum. Were you unable to interact with ordinary people even in the coffee shop? Perhaps it’s a mindset drilled into the citizens from the old Soviet era. Sad.
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Jo, there was no interaction with ANY people in Russia outside of the guides. The ladies at the café took your order, gave it to you. Done……..
Wow, those are amazing! I didn’t realize how many kinds there were and not all egg-shaped. As for the lack of personal interaction, I agree that it’s likely partly a holdover but I think it’s also the way the government wants it now. After all, their leader was a member of the KGB, so…
Thanks for the great photos and information.
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This post I do love. Fabergé is known very well in my country. Minor reason is that we have few years ago and exhibition of Fabergé eggs! I took photos from them, but at those days it was not possible to publish them in my blog. Maybe times have changes. Bigger reason that we know these eggs that Fabergé employed Finnish master. Here is a part of text found in a book translated into English from Finnish:
“From the beginning, Fabergé had Finnish masters as employees. His company employed a group of particularly talented goldsmiths and silversmiths, and a significant number of them were Finnish.”
Our Easter eggs, made of courses simulate these eggs. They are popular.
Have a wonderful day!
We really enjoyed the Fabergé Museum, because it was not nearly as crowded as the Hermitage! We spent a good deal of time looking at everything in this museum……..Are special eggs sold in Finland at Easter?