Easter is the most joyful celebration of the Orthodox faith inRussia. After church services, families gather to exchange gifts ofdecorated eggs, symbols of renewed life and hope. The Easter of 1885 marked the twentieth anniversary of CzarAlexander III and Czarina Maria Fedorovna, and the Czar neededan exceptional gift for his wife. He commissioned a young jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge, who’swork had recently caught his wife’s eye. On Easter morning, Faberge delivered to the palace whatappeared to be a simple enameled egg. To the delight of the Empress, inside was a golden yolk; withinthe yolk was a golden hen; and concealed within the hen was adiamond miniature of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg.
His wife’s delight was all that Czar needed to reward Faberge withan egg commission every year. The requirements were straightforward: each egg must be unique Each must contain a suitable surprise for the Empress With consummate craftsmanship and an inventive spirit, Fabergerepeatedly met the challenge, borrowing inspiration from thegilded lives of Czar and Czarina. In October of 1894 the Czar’s health failed. He died suddenly in the prime of life and his son Nicholas IIascended the throne. Not prepared to be a Czar, Nicholas decided to just continue onwith all the things his father had done, including the tradition ofthe Easter Egg.
Nicholas continued the commission for his mother’s egg andadded another order for his new wife, Czarina AlexandreaFedorovan. So imaginatively conceived and opulently executed, Faberge’swork elevated jewelry to a decorative art unequaled since theRenaissance. At the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, the Imperial eggs wereshown in public for the first time. The eggs astounded the jury, which showered Faberge withhonors and his fame spread throughout Europe. Faberge’s workshops became flooded with commissions,transforming an ordinary goldsmith shop into the famous “Houseof Faberge.” Year by year, Faberge’s Imperial Easter Eggs reached newheights of invention and extravagance, expressions in miniatureof the imperial privilege. Ultimately, these eggs would become painful reminders of thetragic events to come.
All of the elements of the Romanov story came together mostelegantly in the Fifteenth Anniversary egg (1911). It was a family album just over five inches tall. Exquisitely detailed paintings depicted the most notable events ofthe reign of Nicholas II and each of the family members. There are his five children, all these sort of glamorous eventssurrounding their lives, and there they are looking happy andunknowing what was going to happen to them just a few yearslater.
During the first months of Russia’s involvement in World War I,the simmering discontent of the troubled nation is cooled bypatriotic unity in defense of the motherland. Russia’s dismal economic conditions made it impossible forNicholas to sustain the war effort against powerful, industrializedGermany. By 1917, famine threatened the country, riots and strikesdemanding bread were common in Moscow and St. Petersburg. When the Imperial troops joined the demonstrators, thegovernment collapsed to the revolution. On March 15th with neither the support of the people n0r thearistocracy, Nicolas was forced to resign.
The next day a decree was passed, ordering the arrest ofNicholas II and all other members of the Romanov family. The Czar and his family were eventually removed to Siberiawhere they were held captive for over a year. On July 17th, 1918 Nicholas, his wife, and his five children werehearded into a basement and executed. Of the immidiate family, only Nicholas’ mother escaped theassassins. As she made a hasty departure from her homeland, she broughtwith her the Order of St. George egg, the last Faberge ImperialEaster egg she would ever receive from her son.