Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Fabergé Resurrection Egg

The provenance on this egg is that it was not one of the eggs given by the Tsar to his wife Maria, the Empress consort, soon to be widow, of Alexander III, and mother of Nicholas II, the last Romanov Tsar.
Who presented it to Maria is an open question.

Additionally, Christopher Forbes, whose father had collected nine of the Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs has proposed a theory that this egg is actually the surprise for the 1894 Renaissance Egg:

From the now defunct Treasures of Imperial Russia website, initially linked on Sunday April 24, 2011 and again on Sunday March 31, 2013.

The figure of Christ depicted standing above the tomb which is flanked by two kneeling angels, each figure naturalistically enameled, the robes enameled white, raised on an oval base bordered by diamonds, the underside with radiating flutes alternately enameled white and translucent strawberry red, the whole contained within a rock-crystal egg-form shell with a vertical diamond-set band raised on a domed quatrefoil foot enameled with multicolored scrolls in Renaissance style and with diamond-set ribbons and mounted with four pearls, the pearl stem with a border of diamonds, marked with Cyrillic initials of workmaster, Fabergé in Cyrillic and assay mark of 56 standard for 14 karat gold.

The Resurrection Egg bears the early hallmark of head workmaster Michael Perchin 1 and the assay marks of St. Petersburg before 1899, a combination of marks dating it to between 1884 and about 1894. The egg is not inscribed with a Fabergé inventory number.

From September 14 to September 20, 1917 Major General Yerekhovich, chief director in charge of the Anichkov Palace, drew up a list of the Dowager Empress’s treasures to be dispatched to Moscow for safekeeping. Among the descriptions, many of which are easily identifiable, he lists “a small crystal egg with figures inside, on a gold stand with eight diamonds, rose-cut diamonds, and pearls,” 2 a description which fits the Resurrection Egg.

On September 15-16, 1917 a train of forty cars full of Imperial treasure, including eighty-four cases from the Dowager Empress’s Anichkov Palace, departed from Petrograd for Moscow. All the treasures from the capital were stored in the basement of the Kremlin Armory. The present object reappears in a 1922 inventory of confiscated treasure established at the time of a transfer from the Kremlin Armory to Sovnarkom as: “a crystal egg containing figures on goldstand with 8 diamonds, rose-cut diamonds and pearls.” 3

The Resurrection Egg has, until recently, been unanimously considered as one of the eggs given by Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Maria Feodorovna. It was exhibited as such at the pioneering Victoria and Albert exhibition in 1977 organized by the late Kenneth Snowman. It was also published as an Imperial egg by all recognized specialists including Snowman (1953, 1962, 1964, 1972, 1979), Habsburg (1979, 1987, 1993, 1996), Solodkoff (1979, 1984, 1988, 1995) and Hill (1989).

The egg has not been accepted as Imperial by Marina Lopato, 3 because it does not appear on a list of the five first eggs from 1885 to 1890 established by the Imperial Cabinet member Petrov. The Resurrection Egg has also been excluded from the list of Imperial eggs by Fabergé/Proler/Skurlov (1997), as there is no trace of it among the invoices of the Imperial Cabinet. Their comprehensive list allows no space for this egg. 4

It would however seem that the Resurrection Egg was included in the 1902 von Dervis Mansion Fabergé exhibition, displayed in a pyramid- shaped showcase containing a number of recognizable objects from the collection of the Dowager Empress. Visible objects include the Diamond Trellis Egg (top shelf, Private Collection USA); the Table Clock in the manner of James Cox (second shelf – Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore) and the Renaissance Egg. An object with an outline strongly resembling the present egg appears on the second shelf.

A highly intriguing hypothesis has recently been advanced by Christopher Forbes, namely that the Resurrection Egg is in fact the surprise originally contained in the Renaissance Egg. This would account for its being shown in the same showcase at the 1902 exhibition, where surprises have been separated from their eggs. Moreover, style and coloring of both objects are virtually identical and the size of the Resurrection Egg perfectly fits the curvature of the egg. The invoice of the Renaissance Egg mentions a pearl, which is not accounted for unless it was part of the surprise. This work of art does not bear an inventory number, which speaks in favor of an Imperial presentation, a hypothesis which would explain why the Resurrection Egg is not included in the generally accepted list of Imperial eggs. Henry Bainbridge, Fabergé’s first biographer, must have seen the Resurrection Egg at a sale at Christie’s in London (March 15, 1934), but passed it over in silence while mentioning the Hen Egg as the sol Imperial egg in the sale. 5 However, it should be noted that Bainbridge was occasionally an unreliable witness, in one instance listing Cartier objects as being by Fabergé. 6

The style of this egg is distinctly neorenaissance, with its jeweled cloisonné enamel decoration. Kenneth Snowman 7 compares it to a globe-shaped rock crystal clock by Heinrich Hoffman in the Green Vaults. The formal Renaissance style was used by Fabergé chiefly for royal presentation pieces and is almost exclusively associated with the workshop of second head workmaster Michael Perchin. One of the best-known objects in this style is the nephrite tray presented by the Dutch Colony of St. Petersburg to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1901. 8 Another is the rock crystal dish presented by the Nobility of St. Petersburg to Nicholas and Alexandra at the occasion of their Coronation in 1896. 9 Yet another is the rock crystal vase given by Leopold de Rothschild to King George V and Queen Mary at their Coronation in 1911. 10

The Neo-Renaissance style became popular in Europe in the 1880s, as seen in the jewelry of Alphonse Fouquet, 11 Émile Froment-Meurice 12 and others of this period. Michael Perchin (1860-1903), who joined Fabergé’s workshop in 1884, becoming its head workmaster soon thereafter, adopted the majority of historical styles soon after they made their appearance in trend-setting Paris – from Neo-Rococo, Japonisme and Art Nouveau to Neo-Classical and Empire. As opposed to the large majority of Fabergé’s workmasters who were of Finnish origin, Perchin came of Russian peasant stock and was apparently self-taught. 13 Trained in the workshop of Erik Kollin, Fabergé’s first head workmaster, he rapidly acquired technical expertise, especially in translucent enamels. Fabergé’s chief designer, François Birbaum, would later write of him:
“His personality combined with tremendous capacity for work, profound knowledge of his craft and persistence in solving certain technical problems. [Perchin] was highly esteemed by the House and enjoyed a rare authority over his apprentices. Over a relatively short period of time he made a considerable fortune, but had no opportunity to enjoy it, because he died in a lunatic asylum in 1903.”

The Resurrection Egg/Surprise was confiscated by the Provisional Government in 1917, sold by the Sovnarkom, the Council of People’s Commission, to a Mr. Derek, then sold by a Mr. Frederick Berry at Christie’s in London on March 15, 1934, lot 86, catalogued as a Reliquary and illustrated as frontispiece in the catalogue, for £110 against a reserve price of 75 guineas to a Mr. R. Suenson-Taylor (later Lord Grantchester).

A reliquary of similar shape by Fedor Afanassiev with silver-gilt figures of the risen Christ flanked by two angels is in the Maryhill Art Museum, Goldendale,Washington.

1. There are two types of hallmarks with the initials of head workmaster Michael Perchin. His “cursive”mark seems to cover the
period from 1884 to about 1894; a more precise mark with a dot between the cyrillic letters M.P. indicates the period from about
1894 to 1903.
2. Tatiana Muntian, “Fabergé im Kreml, ” in Hamburg, 1995.
3. Marina Lopato, “Fresh Light on Carl Fabergé” in Apollo, January 1984.
4. Fabergé/Proler/Skurlov 1997.
5. Two letters addressed to Eugène Fabergé dated March 11 and 13, 1934 (see Fabergé/Proler/Skurlov 1997).
6. See Munich 2003, cat. 695.
7. Snowman 1953/62/64/68.
8. Habsburg/Solodkoff 1979.
9. Munich 1986/7.
10. Munich 1986/7.
11. Munich 1989 (Pariser Schmuck).
12. Op. cit.
13. For Perchin’s biography and work, see Wilmington 2003.
14. Fabergé/Skurlov 1992.