The Russian royal family took their Easter eggs more seriously than most. Easter was a time of jubilant celebration for the ill-fated clan who inspired some of history’s most exquisite examples of objet d’art. Imperial Easter eggs were exclusively commissioned by the Romanov royals, and expertly crafted by the House of Fabergé. Only 50 imperial Fabergé eggs were ever made, and 43 survive. Gaze upon some of the world’s finest luxury craftsmanship at these nine museums.
The Fabergé Museum holds the world’s largest collection of eponymous works. Crafting more than imperial eggs, the design house also created opulent jewelry and collectibles. Founded in 1842 by Gustav Fabergé, his son, Peter Carl, took over the business in 1872. Peter Carl’s “artistic taste and remarkable energy” landed the firm in the royal family’s good graces, and in 1885, Fabergé became the official Supplier of the Imperial Court. By 1890, Peter Carl was the Appraiser to the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty. Located in Shuvalov Palace, the museum is as grand as its collection. It holds nine Fabergé eggs, including the Hen Egg, the first imperial Fabergé egg gifted to the Empress Maria Feodorovna by her husband Alexander III, and the magnificent Renaissance Egg, the last one the Empress would receive.
The British royal family has been collecting Fabergé objects since the days of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. While the jewelry house was lesser-known in the United States until the 1930s, European royal families had been exchanging Fabergé gifts since the late 1800s. Queen Alexandra was purportedly “one of Fabergé’s greatest supporters,” regularly exchanging their products as birthday and Christmas gifts. The King and Queen subsequently purchased three imperial Easter eggs, on view at the Royal Collection Trust in London: the magnificent Colonnade EggClock made with gold in four colors, platinum, and rose diamonds; the delicate Basket of Flowers Egg made from silver, gold, blue enamel, and diamonds; and the exquisite Mosaic Egg, made of intricate bits of gold, platinum, pink and clear diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and moonstone.
Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts houses five of the 50 imperial eggs ever forged. In 1947, philanthropist Lillian Thomas Pratt donated her astounding collection of over 400 Russian artworks, 170 of which are pieces from the House of Fabergé. Pratt’s collection of Easter eggs includes the Imperial Peter the Great Easter Eggmade of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, crystal, and watercolor on ivory; the Imperial Rock Crystal Easter Egg made of rock crystal, gold, emeralds, diamonds, enamel, and watercolor on ivory; and the Imperial Red Cross Easter Eggmade of gold, silver, mother of pearl, enamel and ivory, lined with velvet.
Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg, 1915. Firm of Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846-1920), Henrik Wigström (Russian, 1862-1923). Gold, silver, enamel, glass. | Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art, The India Early Minshall Collection
The Cleveland Museum of Art houses one Fabergé egg: the Red Cross Triptych Egg. Made of gold, silver, enamel, and glass, the Red Cross Triptych Egg “honored the contributions of Tsarina Alexandra and her two eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, to the war effort as Red Cross Sisters of Mercy.” Inside the egg are miniature replicas of Olga’s and Tatiana’s patron saints.
Catherine the Great Easter Egg, 1914. St. Petersburg, Russia. Gold, diamonds, pearls, opalescent enamel, opaque enamel, silver, platinum, mirror | Courtesy of the Hillwood Museum
The Kremlin Armory in Moscow holds the largest collection of imperial Fabergé eggs in the world. House of Fabergé was commissioned to craft imperial Easter eggs for the royal family for 11 Easters, and in that time, constructed some of history’s finest, most valuable works of objet d’art. The Kremlin’s collection of 10 imperial eggs includes the Moscow Kremlin Egg, a gold and silver jewelry box resembling Russia’s most famous building; the Clover Egg, a diamond-studded gold and green egg given to Empress Alexandra by her husband Emperor Nicholas II to commemorate their happy marriage; and the golden Clock Egg, “remarkable for its elegance and technical perfection.” Built in 1508 and established as a museum in 1851, the Kremlin Armory is one of the oldest Russian cultural institutions.
Twelve Monograms Egg | Courtesy of the HIllwood Museum
The Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens houses a magnificent Russian Collection, with two imperial eggs. At the dawn of the Cold War, American socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post returned home from the Soviet Union to Washington D.C. with Russian objects never-before-seen in the United States. Post was already a collector of French objects, and turned her sights to Russian works of porcelain, silver, enamel, and glass. She ultimately accrued the largest collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, according to the Hillwood Museum’s website. Naturally, Fabergé appealed to Post, and her pink and gold Catherine the Great Eggis now on view in the museum’s collection alongside the Twelve Monograms Egg, which Tsar Nicholas II gifted to his mother.
Baden-Baden’s Fabergé Museum is exclusively dedicated to the life and works of Carl Peter Fabergé. In the museum’s collection is one imperial egg: the entirely unique Imperial Constellation Easter Egg. Made from nephrite, rock crystal, blue glass, gold, and diamonds, the Imperial Constellation Easter Egg is comprised of a deep blue sphere wrapped in a golden dial. Diamonds form the shape of a lion in honor of Tsarevitch Alexei, who was a Leo. The sphere is propped up by billowy clouds of rock crystal. The piece was supposed to bear five angels ascending towards the glass sphere, but the museum supposes that this detail was left incomplete due to the start of the Russian Revolution. The egg was intended to be an Easter present to Empress Alexandra in 1917, but it was never gifted to her due to the war.
The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore houses two imperial Fabergé eggs: the Gatchina Palace Egg and the Rose Trellis Egg. The gold, diamond, and enamel Gatchina Palace Eggwas a present from Nicholas II to his mother. The top flips open to display a miniature gold replica of the Gatchina palace outside of St. Petersburg. The elaborate Rose Trellis Egg is heavily adorned with gold, pink and green enamel, and diamonds, lined with satin. A gift from Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, it opened to reveal a diamond necklace and a miniature portrait of the royal family on ivory and framed with diamonds. Both gifts were lost, though an impression from the diamonds is said to be left on the satin.
In November 2011, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art inaugurated a 10-year exhibition of Fabergé masterpieces from the collection of heiress and philanthropist Matilda Geddings Gray. Gray took notice of Fabergé craftsmanship in the 1930s at a time when the design house remained relatively unknown in the United States. Now, part of her robust collection of priceless Fabergé pieces is on long-term loan at the Met until November 2021. The lengthy exhibition features three imperial eggs: the Imperial Danish Palaces Egg, a magnificent, 12-section opalescent pink egg encrusted with diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires gifted to Tzar Alexander III’s wife; the Imperial Caucasus Egg made of diamonds, pearls, crystal and ivory; and the Imperial Napoleonic Egg, an Easter present from Tzar Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1912.