Few figures in history have fascinated us as much as Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra, particularly their personal lives. In retrospect, the two monarchs and their five children seemed doomed from the beginning. While the turmoil of coming revolution swirled around them, the family resided in an insular world, surrounded by luxury and opulence. However, the magnificent Imperial Easter Eggs made by the master jeweler Peter Carl Faberge and his workshop of designers truly symbolize the Romanov’s wealth and power. Today these extraordinary works of art are worth millions of dollars, prized by billionaires and art museums as invaluable centerpieces of their collections.
Yet, the Faberge Easter Eggs also represent the immortality of love. Nicholas and Alexandra, in spite of their weaknesses as rulers, russos near me had a long and passionate marriage lasting almost a quarter of a century. Although Alexander III, Nicholas’ father was the first czar to give a Faberge egg to his spouse at Easter starting in 1885, the young emperor continued this annual practice when he ascended the throne nearly a decade later.
In fact, Nicholas would present two Easter eggs each year: one to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria and the other to his wife Alexandra or Sunny, as he called her. His gifts to Sunny, though, reflect the public and private relationship between the royal lovers, ultimately telling the story of their tragic fate.
Somehow all of these priceless treasures have miraculously survived, escaping the destruction of revolution and war. Twenty-one in total, they range from the resplendent diamond covered Rosebud Easter Egg of 1894. the first of Czarina Alexandra’s Faberge eggs and a sign of the couple’s new life together, to the dark Steel Military Easter Egg mounted on artillery shells constructed during the austere years of World War I when the Russian empire was close to collapse.
Did the Czarina Alexandra have her favorite one? A likely choice would have been the gold Coronation Easter Egg of 1897, celebrating the triumphant moment of Alexandra’s crowning in Moscow. How could the twenty-four year old empress resist the surprise inside: an ingenious miniature replica (complete with moving wheels and red upholstery) of the eighteenth century coach of Catherine II in which Alexandra rode to the ceremony that day. Instead it brought back memories of the tragedy that marked what should have been a joyous occasion: the loss of over a thousand of her new subjects’ lives in a stampede for beer and souvenirs a couple of days after the coronation. An event that was interpreted by the more superstitious members of the Russian populace as an evil portent of the future.
So Alexandra probably preferred the Faberge eggs that were inspired by her growing family, starting with the Lilies of the Valley Easter Egg done early in her marriage. This elegant Art Nouveau creation decorated with pearls and rubies combined Alexandra’s enjoyment of flowers with her love of her children. How delighted she must have been by another surprise: three watercolor portraits of her husband and two baby daughters, Olga and Tatiana that slowly emerged from the interior of the egg with just a slight turn of a button on the side.
The striking jade colored exterior of the Alexander Palace Easter Egg, of nearly a decade later, was adorned with representations of her children too; this time, the two eldest joined by three more siblings, Maria, Anastasia, and the long anticipated heir, Alexis. But even Grand Duchesses and a Czarevich needed a home. For hidden inside the egg is an intricate model of the family residence, the Alexander Palace.
The Czarina might have viewed the lapis lazuli and gold Czaverich Easter Egg, created in remembrance of the recovery of the eight year old Alexis, with mixed feelings: grateful that he had survived near fatal bleeding from hemophilia and yet still haunted by his terrible suffering. In Alexandra’s eyes, reputed holy man Rasputin was the savior of her son, leading to the monk’s elevation as her adviser, another factor that would ensure the fall of the Romanovs.
For by 1912, when the Czarevich East Egg was finished, Nicholas’ reign had already been weakened by the loss of the Russo-Japanese War and the unsuccessful Revolution of 1905. World War I, which broke out a few years later, would initially unify the country against its foreign enemies. Czarina Alexandra and the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana joined in the patriotic effort, volunteering to treat the wounded and dying soldiers back from the war front. Faberge captured their devotion in the Red Cross with Triptych Easter Egg of 1915 decorated with two portraits of Alexandra’s daughters, dressed in the simple attire of nurses.
However, by 1916, the foreboding black Steel Military Easter Egg mentioned above was an omen of the end. It would be the last Imperial Faberge egg from Nicholas to Alexandra; what a contrast to the fragile beauty of the Rosebud Easter Egg of some two decades before.
In March, 1917, Czar Nicholas abdicated. The Imperial family, including the five children, were executed in July, 1918, after a long imprisonment. Peter Carl Faberge was forced to flee to Switzerland, dying there in 1920, just a few years after the czar he had served so loyally.