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Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg - Tour!

Faberge Egg Museum in St. Petersburg
Faberge Egg Museum in St. Petersburg

The Faberge Museum is one of the newest museums in St. Petersburg. It holds a fabulous collection, including the largest collection of Faberge eggs to be found anywhere in the world – even in Russia, only the Moscow Armoury comes close to rivalling the exhibition. The museum also holds a galaxy of other items made by Faberge, as well as his contemporaries. 

Yet it can be difficult for the uninformed to see. The museum's website gives little information on how to get tickets, the price of tickets, opening days or hours, but our tour company can help to unlock the secrets of these beautiful eggs. Contact us in advance of your arrival in St. Petersburg to arrange a visit to the museum.

The History of Faberge and the Eggs

The Faberge Jewelry firm was founded in 1842 in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Gustav Faberge, the father of the great Carl Faberge.

Carl Faberge studied in Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, London, Florence and Paris, and began working for the company in 1872. Under his leadership, assumed in 1882, it became one of the largest in Russia.

At its height, Faberge employed seven hundred craftsmen and artists. The St. Petersburg Department consisted of independent workshops whose owners worked on drawings and models exclusively for the firm, to the high standards required by the Russian Imperial Court. However, his clients also included the Royal Families of Sweden, Norway, Britain and Siam.

In 1885, having worked for the Romanovs for the best part of a decade, Faberge was asked by Tsar Alexander III to produce a jewelled Easter egg for his wife. Alexander had the idea because Russian people traditionally exchange dyed Easter eggs, which symbolise the Resurrection, and the tradition had been enhanced with the opening of the Imperial Porcelain Factory in the second half of the 18th Century, which began to produce porcelain eggs.

The first Imperial Easter Egg, the “Hen Egg”, was a massive success – the Tsar was so impressed be deemed Faberge worthy of the title of “Supplier to His Imperial Majesty”, thus giving Faberge both recognition and a high level of artistic freedom. The eggs became an annual Romanov tradition, and were made for other clients, too.

However, the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought the tradition to an end. The Faberge Company, which was floated on the stock market in 1916, was nationalised by the Bolsheviks, and its stock confiscated.

Faberge himself fled St. Petersburg on the last diplomatic train, travelling through Latvia, then Finland, before eventually finding a haven in Switzerland. However, Faberge was a broken man after losing his home and business, and he died in 1920.

The eggs live on, and each has its own story. Some were confiscated by the Russian Government; many of these were sold to dealers during the famines of the 1920s, particularly to Armand Hammer, a doctor. Others were smuggled out of Russia by fleeing aristocrats, who sometimes sold them on to pay for food or lodgings.

By the latter half of the 20thcentury, several firms and indiviuals had become prominent collectors, including Wartski Jewellers in London, the Queen of England, and the late Malcolm Forbes, an American media magnate – the eggs collected by the latter now form the bulk of what is now displayed in the St. Petersburg Faberge Egg Museum.

The history of the museum began in 2004, when a Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg bought the eggs from the estate of Malcolm Forbes, preventing the collection from being broken up, perhaps forever.

He founded a charity, "Svyaz Vremyon" (Link of Epoches), whose purpose is to return art and cultural treasures lost to Russia during the Soviet period.

In order to open a museum dedicated to the works of Carl Faberge, in 2006 Svyaz Vremyon agreed to rent the Shuvalovsky Palace for fifty years from the City of St. Petersburg. Its restoration alone lasted seven years and during this period the charity continously sought and bought Faberge pieces, including 14 large Easter eggs. 

Today the collection of Svyaz’ Vremyon has more than 4,000 items, which in addition to the works of Faberge include items produced by other Russian artists. Many of them are displayed in the museum.

Imperial Easter Eggs

Of all Faberge's masterpieces, his Russian eggs are the most famous – and the Imperial Easter Eggs the best known and most fabulous of these. The Faberge Museum in St Petersburg houses nine of them.

The Imperial Easter Eggs, as their name suggests, were constructed on the personal orders of the last two Russian emperors - Alexander III and Nicholas II. They were created for particularly significant historic and dynastic events within the Imperial family.

It is believed that there were fifty Imperial eggs in existence in pre-Revolution Russia. Eight were destroyed or lost in the post-Revolutionary chaos. Of the surviving numbers, ten are located in the Kremlin Armoury, and nine can be found in St Petersburg; including the first and last of the series.

Hen Egg

In 1885 Emperor Alexander III decided to give his beloved wife Empress Maria Feodorovna an Easter egg jewelry and placed his order with Carl Faberge. 

The Emperor requested that Faberge model his design on a simple white chicken egg  - yet this simple egg was to be made with ivory, be lined with gold, and hide a golden chicken inside - from the royal treasury of Denmark, where Maria Feodorovna came from. 

Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg - Hen Egg

The Hen egg originally contained two other tiny surprises – a tiny gold and diamond replica of the Imperial Crown, which encircled a ruby pendant, which came complete with a chain for the Tsarina to wear.

At some time after the Revolution, the surprises were lost – the Hen egg was looted from the Anichov Palace, and then was sold to an English dealer in 1920. He in turn sold it to a member of the English aristocracy, Lord Grantchester. When Grantchester died, the egg was purchased by Forbes.

Renaissance Egg

The last egg produced for Alexander III is the tenth in the series, which the Tsar presented to his wife on Easter in 1894 shortly before his death. The Renaissance egg is made of agate, the name is due to its artistic execution in the Renaissance style. The surprise of the egg is lost, but it has been suggested that the surprise was actually the “Resurrection” egg. This fits Renaissance perfectly and has similar designs. Another theory was that the original surprise was pearls.

Faberge Museum - Renaissance Egg

Rosebud Egg

This egg, among several others was sold by the Russian Government to Armand Hammer soon after the Revolution, and had a string of owners, before it was eventually bought by Forbes.

After the death of Alexander III, his son, Emperor Nicholas II, continues Easter tradition started by his father. But he asked that Carl Faberge produce two eggs a year - one for his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, and the second for the wife  - Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

This egg is the first gift of Nicholas II to his young wife, which he presented soon after the wedding as a declaration of love, in 1895. 

Faberge museum - Rosebud Egg

The Rosebud egg is red, and adorned with Cupid's arrow and tightly intertwined wreaths - a symbol of the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

The eggs opens like a bonbonierre, and contains an ornate yellow rose – the most valued flower in Alexandra's German homeland. The original surprise was a minature replica of her crown, a symbol of her new responsibilities which is now missing.

The Rosebud was sold by the Russian Government in 1927, and was then sold to a private collector. However, at some point during the 1930s, the egg was lost; it was also rumoured to have been damaged in a marital dispute. The egg was discovered again in he collection of the Fine Art Society in London, from where it was purchased by Forbes.

Coronation Egg

Carl Faberge devoted this egg to the important event in the history of the dynasty of Russia - the coronation of Nicholas II. Nicholas II presented it to his wife. The egg’s shell resembles the cloth of gold mantels, which Nicholas and Alexandra wore during the coronation. The egg's surprise is a copy of the coronation carriage used by the Romanovs during the 18th century; it is rendered in incredible detail, down to the coach seats and spring. 

Faberge museum - 15th Jubilee Egg

However, the egg is not entirely complete – it originally contained a pendant made of diamond or emerald, and two ornate stands for the coach.

During the 20th Century, the egg had several owners, and was eventually purchased by Forbes.

Lily of the Valley Egg

Egg "Lilies" is another gift of Nicholas II dear wife, and produced in the Art Nouveau or Art Nouveau style which the Empress adored.

Inside the egg, as the name suggests, are pink lilies of the valley, the Empress's favorite flowers and her favourite colour. These are made of pearls – another favourite of Alexandra's.

In addition, lily of the valley - a symbol of feminine purity. The imperial couple gave birth to two daughters by April 1898, shortly before the egg was constructed. Their portraits, along with a portrait of the emperor, form a shamrock, which rotataes upward when the egg is opened.

Faberge museum St. Petersburg - Lily of the Valley Egg

Like other eggs, it was confiscated after the Revolution and sold to Wartski Jewellers, who sold it on to Forbes.

Rooster Egg

This was a gift from  Nicholas II on Easter 1900 to his deeply beloved mother, Maria Feodorovna. It is also known as the Cuckoo or Cockerel Egg. Pressing the button at the base of the egg activates a cunning mechanism, which causes a flapping rooster to emerge from the Egg.

Faberge museum - Rooster Egg

15th Jubilee Egg

This Egg decorated with miniatures, written in watercolor on ivory. It was given as a gift to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. 

Faberge museum - 15th Jubilee Egg

In 1911, fifteen years had passed since the coronation of Nicholas II. Sixteen miniatures depict the Seven members of the royal family and nin commemorative events of the reign of Nicholas II.

Bay Tree Egg

Year after year it became harder to Carl Faberge to surprise his customers, and eggs sometimes took a very unusual shape – in this case, the bay tree. The tree symbolises unfading glory and recognition, which was seen as a suitable emblem for Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in Russia.

The egg contains leaves carved from jade, each attached to the stalk of golden barrel. From the leaves hang fruits of amethyst, citrine and pink diamonds, and flowers of gold, covered with white opaque enamel. The egg's surprise is a golden bird, which hides within the tree.

Faberge museum - Bay Tree egg

This egg was confiscated and sold by the post-Revolutionary Russian Government It had several different owners, including the Wartski jewellers. It was bought by Forbes in the 1960s.

Georgievskoye Egg

The last Faberge Easter Egg that was presented to the Royal Family, this egg was delivered in October 1915, when the emperor Nickolas II was awarded the St. George Cross, and the Tsarevich Alexei the St. George medal. The Order of St George was the highest Russian military honour, and its award was of great importance for the emperor.

Because of the austerities of the First World War, the Imperial Russian Family asked for less elaborate eggs. The surprise of the egg – poigniantly, given the fate or the Romanovs - are portraits of Nicholas and Alexei. 

Faberge museum - Georgievskoye Egg

Unlike the other eggs, the St George was not taken as loot by Revolutionaries.  It was carried from Russia by the Dowager Empress when she fled. She treasued it until her eventual death in Denmark in 1928. It was then acquired by Queen Mary (the grandmother of the current Queen of England), before passing into the ownership of the exiled Russian aristocrat, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovana. It was sold to Forbes after her death.

Other Eggs

Duchess Marlborough Egg

This egg was made for the Duchess of Marlborough, who visited St Petersburg and was invited to the Imperial Court. The Egg is shaped like a vase with a watch-rotator. It rotates the dial and diamond arrow in the form of a snake’s tongue points the time.

This egg was the first collected by Malcolm Forbes.

Eggs of Kelch

Faberge also made seven eggs for the merchant's wife Varvara Kelch, whose husband was the owner of the Siberian goldfields. Two of these are exhibited in this museum. Both are made based on the eggs of the Empress Maria Feodorovna - "Hen" and "Rooster". 

In 1904 Varvara Kelch left Russia and took her valuables with her, including Easter eggs . After 1917, she started to sell them. Ultimately, two of them were bought by Forbes, and were subsequently transferred to the St Petersburg collection.

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