The Tsarist Easter Eggs

  March 27, 2016 at 6:00 am by

Today is Easter Sunday, and if we were either Empress Alexandra or the Dowager Empress Maria of Russia back in the early 20th century, we would be receiving an elaborate jewelled Easter egg from our husband or son, Tsar Nicholas II, to mark the holiday.

The House of Fabergé was first commissioned to make an egg – the Hen Egg – in 1885 for Tsar Alexander III, who gave it to his wife Maria for Easter. The Empress was positively enraptured with her gift, which contained the first ‘surprise’ that added an extra element to the grandeur of each subsequent egg – inside the egg’s outer shell was a yellow-gold ‘yolk’, which itself contained a gold hen (the hen also opened to reveal a miniature imperial crown).

The Hen Egg, 1885

Thrilled by his wife’s delight, Alexander appointed Peter Carl Fabergé a goldsmith to the Imperial Crown and ordered a new egg for her each Easter, leaving their design up to Fabergé with the only stipulation that the egg contain a surprise like the first.

After Tsar Alexander’s death in 1894, his son and the new Tsar, Nicholas, took over the Easter Egg tradition, ordering two a year, one for his mother and one for his wife.

The Imperial Coronation Egg, 1897

The eggs became more and more elaborate as time went on, and would often be themed to relate personally to the Imperial receivers – among the eggs were ones designed after the Gatchina and Alexander Palaces, one commemorating the Dowager Empress’s Danish father, King Christian IX, several honouring the memory of Alexander III and one for the Romanov tercentenary in 1913. The two eggs made in 1915 were both themed on the Red Cross, unsurprisingly as the country was heavily involved in the First World War, one of them containing portraits of five Imperial ladies in their nurses uniforms.

The Fifteenth Anniversary Egg, 1911

Of the 52 eggs created for the Russian Tsars between 1885 and 1916, 43 remain and are held in museums or private collections worldwide. 19 can be found in Russia, either at the Kremlin Armoury or at the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, owned by billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

The Lilies of the Valley Egg, 1898

Two foreign royal collections claim ownership of some Imperial Eggs: the Royal Collection in the United Kingdom has three (Basket of Wild Flowers, Colonnade and Mosaic, each purchased by either Queen Mary or George V in the early 1930s), while Prince Albert II of Monaco owns the Blue Serpent Clock Egg.

The Blue Serpent Clock Egg, 1895

Today the eggs are worth millions – quite the Easter gift!

Filed under Historical Royals, Russia
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