Peter the Great Egg

The Emperor Nicholas II gave this Egg to his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna for Easter 1903. It commemorates the 200th anniversary of the founding of Saint Petersburg by Peter the Great.

Its body of varicoloured gold is in the rococo-revival style and was inspired by a French nécessaire with a clock that is still in the Hermitage. The body of the Egg is rich in symbolism. In Russia roses and laurel leaves represent triumph and pride. The bulrushes shown in our image to the left and right of the portrait are there to symbolise the marshy land upon which Peter the Great built the city that bears his name. While the portrait of Nicholas II appears on one side of the Egg, Peter the Great’s portrait appears on the opposite side.

Apart from the portraits, the shell of the Egg bears two other watercolour medallions, which incidentally are painted on ivory and covered with rock crystal as opposed to glass for protection. At the back below 1703 in diamonds is a painting of the humble log cabin which is said to have been built with Peter the Great’s own hands on the site of Saint Petersburg. By contrast, at the front of the Egg under the date 1903 in diamonds, is a painting of the impressive and luxurious 1000 room Winter Palace at which Nicholas II resided and entertained.

The surprise of this Egg is a miniature replica of Etienne-Maurice Falconet’s statue of the Bronze Horseman, which is an equestrian statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1782. It still stands in Senate Square on the banks of Saint Petersburg’s river Neva and has become the symbol of the city. When the Egg is opened, the gilt bronze statue upon a sapphire rock (shaped as the original Thunder Stone pedestal) rises from the depths of the Egg. It is dramatically viewed against the golden yellow guilloché enamel of the Egg’s raised cover. The platform, railings and chain fencing that support and surround the model are all crafted in gold. Fabergé invoiced the Emperor 9760 roubles for this Egg in 1903.

In 1927 the Soviets valued it at 16,008 roubles. However, the USSR’s Antikvariat sold it to an unnamed buyer in 1933 for 4000 roubles. The buyer could well have been Alexandra Schaffer of New York’s Russian Imperial Treasures Inc. In 1941 the Schaffers formed a partnership with A la Vieille Russie (ALVR) of Paris and the Russian Imperial Treasures became ALVR of New York. Mrs Pratt agreed to purchase the Egg in 1942 for $16,5000. She paid for it in 33 monthly instalments ranging from $150 to $750 from February 1942 through to December 1944. Today, the Egg is probably worth upwards of $25 million. The Egg is 10.8 cm (4.25in) high. (x)

4 months ago • 68 notes • December 19th
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