RUSSIA: The Doll & the Egg (or what happens if you don't look before you leap)

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December 30th 2019
Published: December 30th 2019
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There were 600 palaces in St Petersburg before the Russian Revolution but only members of the Russian Royal family lived in them.

The Tsars had heaps of children and it was only right that each had their own palace.

There were also 870 Aristocratic families in St Petersburg before the Russian Revolution. They were not Royals and did not live in palaces but lived in mansions.

That's what we were told at the secure vaults of the Hermitage.

But this dancer knows better.

Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter, the one who ordered the Summer and Winter Palaces be built, gifted Anichkov Palace (1741-50) on the banks of the Fontanka River to her lover Aleksey Razumovskiy.

So did that gift make him a Royal?

I don't think so!!!

Alexander the Great, our esteemed guide told the history of the Faberge Eggs on our way to the Shuvalov Palace where they are housed...where various eggs are on show purchased by a Russian oligarch.

Then he told us this gem:

"Mary Magdalene sought an audience with Emperor Tiberius to tell him of the resurrection of Jesus.

A gift was required, but as she was very poor, she took a white egg to give to him.

She told Tiberius of the resurrection and he said it was not possible.

The white egg then turned red before his eyes.

That is what the Bible says."

Now he has my attention...scramble to write it down.

The Faberge Eggs

With so many Royals and Aristocrats swanning around, it is little wonder in 1842 an enterprising jeweller of French Huguenot origin, Gustav Faberge, set up shop in St Petersburg.

But not being a Royal or an Aristocrat he could not call his shop a Palace or a Mansion, so he called it the next best thing...a House.

Thus.the House of Faberge was born.

And as fortune had it, he had two enterprising sons, Carl and Agathon who persuaded their Dad to abandon making trinkets and step up to create objects d'art...exquisite pieces both innovative and unique.

And as fortune had it they found a niche market...Easter Eggs for the Tsars...and Carl became the favoured artisan.

In 1885 Alexander III commissioned the Faberge brothers to create an Easter Egg for his Danish wife, Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna.

They created an egg with a gold gilded and white enamel shell and a golden hen within.

Needless to say it went down rather well...the first of 54 unique Easter eggs.

Business boomed culminating in about 700 employees at workshops in 4 locations.

From 1897 Nicholas II commissioned Easter eggs for his mother the Empress Dowager and for his wife Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna.

The Piece de Resistance is the Siberian Railway Egg commissioned in 1900.

The Russian Revolution put an end to all that egg laying but many were saved.

In 2013 the billionaire philanthropist Viktor Vekselburg splashed a lot of cash and after extensive renovations opened the Faberge Museum on the site.

Various Faberge Eggs and over 4,000 works of art by venerated Russian jewellers and painters had this dancer missing a step or two...Denise's iphone blowing any pics I took out of the water.

I introduce some of the beauties on show.

Some coming with "surprises" on opening inside.

Renaissance Egg 1894

Presented by Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, was inspired by an oval agate casket by Le Roy in the Dresden Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vaults), the museum founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723. Transformed by Fabergé into an egg shape, it is made of cloudy agate, its cover applied with opaque white enamel gold trellis-work with a quatrefoil of diamonds and a ruby centre at each intersection. A red enamel band divides the two egg-halves. The top bears the date 1894 set in rose diamonds.

Rose Bud Egg 1895

This egg, applied with diamond-set Cupid’s arrows symbolizing Love, was the first of the series presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, a few months after their marriage. It is crafted from multi-coloured gold, decorated with bands of rose-cut diamonds and is covered with translucent red guilloché enamel. The egg opens to reveal a surprise of an opaque yellow and green enamel rose bud. At its apex the egg has a miniature portrait of the young Tsar under a table-cut diamond, and at its base the date 1894. Further surprises contained within, a diamond-set crown and a ruby drop, have been lost and are only known from an old photograph.

The Coronation Egg 1897

Presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as a memento of her entry into Moscow on May 26th 1897 for their Coronation in the Uspensky Cathedral. Its outer shell is made of multi-coloured gold, embellished with translucent yellow guilloché enamel and black enamel double-headed eagles set with diamonds, a design recalling the heavy Cloth of Gold robe she wore at the ceremony. The jewelled monogram of the empress appears at the egg’s apex under a portrait diamond, with the date at the base. The egg opens to reveal a surprise in the form of a diamond-set enamelled gold miniature replica of the original 18th century carriage by Buckendahl which once contained an emerald drop, later replaced by a yellow briolette diamond (both lost). The 3 11/16 in. (9.4cm) coach took craftsman, Georg Stein 13 months to complete.

LiIlies of the Valley Egg 1898
Pink guilloché enamel Art Nouveau egg, presented by Tsar Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, is virtually smothered with pearls and diamond-set lilies of the valley sprays, her favourite flower. It stands on four cabriolet feet entwined with diamond-set foliage. The surprise, three miniatures of their eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, surmounted by a diamond and ruby-set Imperial Crown, appears when one of the pearls is twisted.

Faberge Kelkh Egg 1898

Ruby Red Enameled Egg on stand with a band of handset Austrian crystals encircling the eggs perimeter Inside the egg contains an oval of white with a matte yellow yolk. The yolk opens to disclose a brightly enameled hen that opens to reveal a tiny portrait propped on an easel of Czarevich Alexei.

The Cockerel Egg 1900

Crafted by Peter Carl Fabergé in his set of Imperial Fabergé eggs. The egg was given in 1900 by Tsar Nicholas II to Empress Maria Feodoronova as a gift. The egg has a mechanism on the top rear that enables its bird to come out and move.

The Dutchess of Marlborough Egg 1902

This “non-Imperial” clock-egg, was acquired from Fabergé by Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, at the occasion of her visit to Russia in 1902. Based on Fabergé’s ‘Blue Serpent Clock Egg’ made for the Dowager Empress in 1895. Made of multi-coloured gold, rose-cut diamonds, pearls and translucent pink and white guilloché enamel, the clock has a revolving dial, with a diamond-set serpent indicating time.

The Bay Tree Egg 1911

Presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, is inspired by a French 18th century singing bird automaton. According to the Fabergé invoice, the bay tree comprises “325 nephrite leaves, 110 opalescent white enamel flowers, 25 diamonds, 20 rubies, 53 pearls, 219 rose-cut diamonds and one large rose-cut diamond”. When the clockwork automation is wound up and set in motion, a feathered bird appears, flaps its wings, turns its head, opens its beak and sings.

The Fifteenth Anniversary Egg 1911

One of a series of fifty-two jewelled enameled imperial Easter eggs made under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family.

Order of St George Egg 1916

Presented by Emperor Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress after the onset of The Great War when precious materials were rare. This, one of Faberge’s two last completed eggs, is of silver and mat opalescent white enamel with no further embellishments. It is set with miniature portraits of Nicholas II and of his son, Alexei, concealed beneath the Badge of the Order of St. George and a silver medal of the Order respectively. This much coveted order, only awarded for great bravery on the Front, was bestowed upon the Emperor on October 25, 1916. It is the only egg that left Russia during the Revolution, accompanying the Dowager Empress into exile.

The World's Most Expensive Doll

I found Denise in the Faberge Shop before we were due to leave and was not surprised she wanted to buy a replica Faberge Egg.

Showed me a few...encouraged her to get one if she wants...otherwise just wandering...just killing time...I'm not buying anything.

Then I saw it.

A small matryoshka doll with a picture of the Cathedral of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood on it...the one with the spiral onion domes.

Matryoshka are wooden Russian Nesting dolls of variable sizes that fit one within another that represent fertility and motherhood.

Our daughter had requested we bring one back for her.

So being a loving father, I checked some out.

And as I did so, a young man came and offered to help me.

I didn't really need help but showed me this and that...very helpful...maybe a small one as my souvenir from Russia I thought...gotta be small...can't be junky...but where to put it? Nah...don't have anywhere to put it.

Alexander interjects, "David. We meet on the bus in four minutes."

"OK. I'll be there. I'm just looking at something. Denise is at the counter buying an egg."

He takes a really nice doll off a high shelf of a girl with a bright smile...I like the ones with cathedrals painted on them...exquisite...each one different..."Very nice but Much Too Big"...this is only the beginning of five weeks away...wouldn't be able to carry it.

"It comes in different sizes...let me show you."...."There are ten in this one all painted by a Russian Master".

"Oooh that size is better" as he opens the fourth or fifth...detail super impressive...not flea market quality this one...reeling me in.

"This one is of Russian Fairy Tales"...each a one off...exquisite detail.

"I like the cathedrals for memories. Which one is more unique?"

"Definitely the Fairy Tales. Guaranteed each doll is unique."

"Nice but much too big. I have nowhere to put it."

"If you get the Fairy should also get a book"...heading to a bookcase and returning.

"Wow...this is a very classy book. How much
is this?"

"Ten Dollars"

Wow...the artwork...very impressive...and only ten bucks!!!

"David...the bus.".

"Yeh, yeh...I'll be there in a minute Alexander."

"OK I'll get the Fairy Tales. And I definitely want the book."

" have one minute. The bus is waiting"...Alexander tapping his watch.

Denise is walking out with something as I approach the counter.

I was probably sweating...I don't mind being last on the bus but I'm never late...yep...probably sweating. it's big..."I also want the book" card...thank you...running out of there.

Got to the bus and others standing around...onto the bus...past those cramped always up the front sitting straight...down the back with the naughty kids where we each have a whole seat...collapse...just made it.

"What did you get Den?"

Two eggs...a blue and a pink one...Swarovski see why you couldn't choose between them...really pleased for you...are you giving one to Anna-Louise?

Simon, Liz, Jan, Geoffrey, & Denise, maybe others eyeing my big parcel.

"What's that?" them...the doll...then the book.

"How much did you pay for that. It's enormous?"

"I don't know."

"What? How can you not know?"

"I didn't have
time. I didn't want to be late for the bus. Alexander was hassling. The book was only ten bucks."

"How much was the doll?"

"I don't know".

Not's only a doll...too big but nice though...couldn't be much.

Pull the receipt from my pocket...hand to Denise...pulls out her iphone doing the conversion from roubles to US dollars then Australian.

"David this is more than double what I paid for two Faberge Eggs. More than double. What were you thinking?"

No way. Can't be. She checks it again and again...Denise's iphone screen shouting at me.

I just sat there in a spin...What have I done?"...the others saying "Too late now"...looking at me.

I didn't ask the price of the doll.

I don't recall in the rush thinking of the price at all.

Maybe I had thought as the book was only ten bucks it couldn't be more than one hundred or so.

But it was more than ten times that.

Gotta be the World's most expensive matryoshka least its autographed!!!

Too late now. How could I have been so stupid?

We waited 10 minutes for two others to get on the bus...there wasn't any pressure on me after all.

Just sat there...slumped silent on the back seat.

If I had known the price there is NO WAY I would have bought way in the World!!!

What have I done?

I hope I like it.

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 105, Displayed: 31


The Coronation CarriageThe Coronation Carriage
The Coronation Carriage

The "Surprise" in Coronation Egg 1897

30th December 2019

At least you were not the last person on the bus!
And you have a great story to tell about a Russian doll...the stacking kind.
30th December 2019

At least you were not the last person on the bus!
The Russian doll smiling at me daily ensures my memories of the Faberge Museum and the story how I got her will never fade. The twists and turns is what makes it so much fun travelling as you know Bob. It is how we handle them that makes the man. Reminds me how you twisted your ankle on day one of your Camino walk and you kept going. I guess that event means of the zillions of travels you have done the Camino will remain with you forever. Somewhat less significant but the doll has done that for me. And as you know I love a good story.
1st January 2020

Faberge Eggs and Nesting Dolls
Great photos of the Faberge Eggs and the explained history of each! I remember seeing a small exhibit of some in London decades ago as I recall and they were fabulous. Sometimes I think the souvenirs you buy in haste (having to rush back to the bus or your ship) turn out to be some of the best and most memorable just like your Matryoshka Doll! One of my favorite souvenirs is a set of 3 carved stone animals (llama, vicuna & alpaca) a woman from Peru begged me to buy as I was rushing onto the bus!
2nd January 2020

Faberge Eggs and Nesting Dolls
I agree that (sometimes) the souvenirs you buy in haste turn out to be some of the best and most memorable, but it got me to thinking and I have added the word "sometimes". I have bought the most unbelievable crap but also items I treasure. There are some that I pondered on price or portability and always regret I did not buy. I can think of one in China and one in Armenia that will ever haunt me for not just grabbing and running. Yet there is this Matryoshka Doll that under any other circumstances there is no way I would have bought but did so, and as a result I treasure her. Food for thought for sure.
2nd January 2020
Rosebud Egg 1895

2nd January 2020
Rosebud Egg 1895

Delicate & Amazing
I have added some descriptions of the eggs, MJ, as the Faberge Eggs are not colourful cardboard cutouts but works of art lavished with exquisite finishes including myriads of diamonds and other gems. I would love to know the Invoice costs to the Tsars. To us mere mortals a fortune no doubt...but to the Tsars...small change maybe!!!
2nd January 2020
The World's most expensive Doll

Amazing artistry.
2nd January 2020
The World's most expensive Doll

$$$ Amazing artistry.
I dare not divulge the actual price but I have given enough clues it was not insignificant and blew both Denise and I away! The photo though amazing artistry, does not do it justice. As it is so shiny, I had to photograph it in a covered area to avoid reflections and have not shown the exquisite detail on the back which is different for each of them. I have shown a taste of some of the paintings in the book which are superb...definitely ten bucks well spent. My favourite pics are of Denise's eggs at the end of the blog which capture them nicely, and of her purchase she is rightly pleased.
2nd January 2020

Thank you for taking us along and showing us all of this amazing art. And and adventure in spending. Yikes! These items are unique and priceless...
2nd January 2020

If this comment is from you MJ, I have experienced your prolonged ponderings when buying gems in Honduras and Armenia that make my rushed extravagance somewhat ill advised. But when the result is unique and priceless, like yours and mine, who am I to complain? I gotta say the adventure in spending for my enormous doll is a story I will retain forever, and that of itself makes her priceless. Beats Dave's fridge magnets! Thanks for joining the ride.
2nd January 2020

Russian History
So many stories to tell.
2nd January 2020

Russian History
I knew so little of Russian history before this trip. When visiting Russia it is so much part of the ethos, I find it fascinating and a delight to research and tell. It is displayed in paintings, frescoes, fact everywhere you look.
2nd January 2020

Quite a story!
No, correction of the title: "Quite a history". Where on earth did you dig so much of Eggnog history of Russia? Hats off to you. Oh yes, I know the Russian Nesting uncle who did his PH.D In Russia, brought one for me...I was a kid. Great blog David....I told you before, compile...compile...publish!!!
2nd January 2020

Quite a story!
Glad you took the time to embrace the story and thus enjoy the ride, Tab. I recall the blog you gave me advice on publishing and I know you are right as that blog still captures reasonable attention and its subject matter and perspective are significant. Your books show the way for sure. One of our fellow mariners on this Russian trip has prepared a 200 page book of the trip that is fantastic, so that has me tempted also. Food for thought as always, Tab.
5th January 2020

Egg History
Dear David & Denise, A very happy New Year to you also. Let’s call them the “ Roaring 20’s!” Thanks for the great pics. as well as all the “egg” history - the mind just boggles with all that glitzy beauty. I also trust your “DOLL” takes pride of place in your home, so visitors can gasp at its beauty! A fantastic buy David - just too many “noughts “ on the amount perhaps?? A souvenir to remember always. Cheers Mary
5th January 2020

Egg History
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Mary. I feel we were honoured to have met the eggs and can share their story. A real testament to the Russians who in times of turmoil knew that it was imperative that their treasures in artworks were part of the heart and soul of their history and needed to be preserved. I had a panda as my doll in my childhood and now it is a noughty Matryoshka Doll in my adulthood. She smiles and tells me this was meant to be!!!
23rd January 2020
15th Anniversary Egg 1911

On Faberge eggs
Several of the original Faberge eggs are missing and it is not known what has happened to them. I think I read a story that one of those was rediscovered only a few years ago. It was sold more or sell as junk. I have tried to find that story now but failed. So I might be wrong after all. /Ake
25th January 2020
15th Anniversary Egg 1911

On Faberge eggs
Hi Ake. I also have heard some of the Faberge Eggs are missing or not accounted for. Guess that makes them even more valuable.
7th February 2020

Eggs and other such things
Haha! Great punchline about the price of the Russian doll. At least it'll be a beautiful reminder to always check the price before purchasing. I agree about not wanting any big heavy souvenirs, especially at the beginning of a trip.
8th February 2020

Eggs and other such things
Initially the doll was smiling...ever since she's been laughing...along with Denise who has me paying it off for a lifetime! There's gotta be a lesson in there somewhere Tommy...but all I can do is wonder how I could have let it happen.

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