Faberge's first Imperial Easter egg was commissioned
by Tsar Alexander III in 1885. Due to its instant success,
a permanent order was given to Faberge, who crafted one egg
after another for the Imperial Family. Ten were for Tsar Alexander
III, who gave them to his wife Maria Feodorovna until his
death in 1894. An additional forty-four were created for Tsar
Nicholas II from 1895 until 1916 as presents for his mother,
the Dowager Empress, and for his wife Alexandra Feodorovna,
thus bringing this to a total of fifty-four eggs. It is also
conceivable that some eggs were given to other members of
the Imperial Family. Forty-four Imperial Easter eggs are known
to exist, of one we have a photograph, while a further five
are known from descriptions. One of the two half-finished
Imperial eggs for 1917 has also survived.
These eggs are now scattered over the world
since their sale by Soviet commissars in the 1920s and 1930s.
Ten have remained in the Kremlin Armoury, eleven are in the
forbes Magazine Collection, thirteen are in American museums,
and the remaining ten are housed in private collections.
Problems concerning the chronology of these
eggs is addressed in another chapter (see Lopato, 'A Few Remarks
Concerning Imperial Easter Eggs'. Suffice it so say that earlier
speculative datings of eggs have been somewhat thrown into
disarray due to findings in the Imperial archives.
This series of Imperial Easter eggs is the
most ambitious project ever entrusted to a goldsmith. The
only conditions set appear to have been an oviform shape,
a surprise of some form, and no repetitions. Surprises were
frequently linked to some occurrence in the history of the
Imperial Family - births, anniversaries, inaugurations. Some
bear royal monograms and or dates, and many exhibit miniatures
of the Imperial children, or their abodes. Two contain models
of Imperial vessels.
Faberge took this commission extremely seriously, often planning
eggs years ahead of time. Some did indeed require several
years to finish. Much secrecy surrounded the surprise in the
eggs, which was never divulged in advance, not even to the
Tsar himself. The solemn presentation of the egg was made
by Faberge or by his son Eugene, and the recipient was invariably
The first two eggs, each with a hen motif,
appear to have been designed and produced under close supervision.
In the following years a certain dependence on earlier models
can be detected. By the mid-1890s, however, the designs of
the eggs become increasingly audacious. Among the most felicitous
examples are the 1897 Coronation Coach egg, the 1898 Lilies-of-the-Valley
egg, the 1899 Pansy egg, the 1901 Gatchina Palace egg, the
1913 Romanov Tercentenary egg, and the 1914 Mosaic egg. The
series ends on a subdued note with two plain Red Cross eggs
for 1915, the simple Order of St. George egg, and the stark
Military egg for 1916.
Some of Faberge's clients dared to emulate
the Imperial Family in their Easter customs, ordering their
own eggs from Faberge. A documented series was commissioned
by Aleksandr Ferdinandovich Kelch, the Siberian gold magnate,
for his wife Barbara, nee Bazanova, between 1898 and 1904.
Single eggs were also made for the Yusupovs and the Nobels.