by Sapna Parikh
What’s the last gift you got from your significant other? How about… a Fabergé egg?? Don’t worry, me neither. But a Russian Czar back in the day set the bar pretty damn high when it comes to expressions of love.
As we turned the corner at the Met Museum and came upon the Fabergé egg exhibit, I found myself a little unimpressed and wondering why these things are such a big deal? I mean… they’re just eggs with a little bling, right?! Well, yea that’s true, but as I got a little closer, the intricacy and detail slowly came to life. And within 2 of the eggs was an ornate fold out screen that displays a miniature artistically rendered narrative. Why would anyone take the time to do all this?!
Turns out the little eggs are more than just artistic treasures, they are imperial gifts and tokens of love from a Russian Czar to his wife. And as this PBS article describes, “momentos of a doomed dynasty.”
It all began in Moscow at the turn of 19th century when Czar Alexander III and his wife (Czarina Maria Fedorovna) were checking out a world exhibition. The work of the young jeweler and artisan Peter Carl Fabergé was on display and impressed Maria.
And so, in 1885, to mark the year of their 20th anniversary, the Czar asked Fabergé to create an original artistic egg for his wife so he could surprise her for Easter (because why not?). She loved that first Fabergé egg so much the Czar commissioned the artist to make one for her every year for the next 32 years.
The house of fabergé
The first egg created for Czarina Maria is known as the “Hen Egg” and it’s reportedly made of a beautiful white enamel surrounding a gold “yolk”. And inside that yolk, yup you guessed it, a pure gold hen. Oh wait, there’s more. Inside the hen is a tiny diamond crown and a tiny egg that is… a ruby. Figures. (Click HERE if you want to see it)
Fabergé's work grew in popularity beyond the Romanov dynasty as other aristocrats and royalty saw the eggs and thought hmm… that looks like a really cool gift. And hence the creation of the House of Fabergé.
In total his team of artisans created 50 Fabergé eggs, each one unique and at times including stories of the Czar’s life.
the end of a dynasty
After Czar Alexander III died, his son Nicolas II took over and continued the tradition, giving an egg to his mother and also his wife. Years later when rough economic conditions overwhelmed Russia during World War I, Czar Nicolas II and his family were taken to Serbia, held captive and ultimately executed. The delicate Fabergé eggs… are now just momentos of that Romanov dynasty.
Of the 50 eggs created by the House of Fabergé, most are on display throughout the world, but there are still 7 believed to be lost. (It used to be 8, but then this guy in the midwest accidentally - yea, accidentally- bought one at a rummage sale. He’s a scrap metal dealer and figured what the heck, I could make some money off this bling. So he bought it for $14K... and then discovered it's worth millions.)
This exhibition at the Met features three of the fifty Imperial Easter Eggs created for the Romanov family by Fabergé beginning in 1885.
Details: Metropolitan Museum of Art (exhibit ends Nov. 30, 2021)
And just in case you’re curious (and want to take a trip to Russia), that very first "Hen Egg" is on display at the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg.