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The ultimate egg nest

For sheer luxury and spectacle there will be nothing in the city this year to rival the World of Fabergé exhibition currently ongoing at the Shanghai Museum. A total 273 dazzling pieces are on show, lighting up the museum's No.2 exhibition hall.


Most have been created by the famous House of Fabergé - a 170-year-old Russian jewelry firm and studio - and are now in the collection of the Moscow Kremlin museum. Other items on show have been lent by the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in St Petersburg.


"At the exhibition visitors will not only be introduced to the 'World of Fabergé,' they will also have the opportunity to view masterpieces made by Russian silver and goldsmiths and a fantastically rich selection of Ural and Siberian gemstones, fashioned into works of art by Russian stonecutters, skillful enamellers, glass makers and weavers," said Elena Gagarina, general director of the Moscow Kremlin. "And the entire collection of treasures is exhibited together for the first time to the wider public."


The opening of the exhibition at the end of September coincided with the 170th anniversary of the founding of the company and the show also marks the 60th anniversary of the Shanghai Museum.


Dizzying array


Visitors can see exquisite jewelry items in a dizzying array of materials including rock crystal, bowenite, citrine, amethyst, beryl, agate, labradorite and nephrite-jade.


Among the eye-catching highlights on show are the four pieces known as the Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, respectively known as "The Memory of Azov," "Trans-Siberian Train," "Moscow Kremlin" and "Imperial Constellation Egg." As a Christian festival, Easter is also the most important holiday in the Russian Orthodox calendar and edible Easter eggs are regularly exchanged as gifts to symbolize Christ's resurrection from his grave. The series of Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs eventually earned the company international recognition.
An Imperial Easter Egg on display at the World of Fabergé exhibition Photos: Courtesy of Shanghai Museum



The story begins in 1842, when Gustav Fabergé opened a modest workshop making gold and diamond articles in St Petersburg. His son Carl continued and expanded the business after receiving an artistic education and working alongside renowned jewelry makers in a number of European cities. In 1885, the House of Fabergé became the appointed supplier to the Russian Imperial Court, producing a number of works for the country's Tsars, or royalty. 


Of the total 42 extant Fabergé Imperial Eggs around the world, the Moscow Kremlin has 10 in its collection, and three of them have now traveled to Shanghai.


The "Imperial Constellation Egg" is part of the collection of the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in St Petersburg. The "Memory of Azov" egg can be opened, and inside is a miniature replica of a ship called the Azov which the two sons of Tsar Alexander III sailed on during their travels to the Far East. It remains the only egg in the Kremlin collection commissioned by Alexander III to commemorate the journey taken by Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich (the future Tsar Nicholas II) and Grand Duke Georgy Alexandrovich. As the Easter gift presented by Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna in 1891, it also marked the beginning of the Easter egg theme in Fabergé's creative journey.


The "Trans-Siberian Train" egg commemorates another journey of Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich. The egg was made in 1900 when the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed under his leadership and inside there lies a miniature train which can be set in motion courtesy of a tiny golden key and a complex mechanism. 


Festival hymns


With a white enamel surface and a gold dome, the "Moscow Kremlin" was made to commemorate the visit of Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina paid to the old capital of Moscow in 1903. The egg contains a music box which plays two traditional Easter festival hymns.


"The exhibition aims to introduce the craftsmanship and aesthetics of jewelry in the late era of the Russian Empire," said Chen Xiejun, director of the Shanghai Museum. "Visitors can learn about the fashionable styles of the time - including Art Nouveau - through a number of royal costumes, ornaments and tableware by Fabergé and other jewelers."


Besides the Easter Eggs, the exhibition also dedicates space to ecclesiastical objects, official royal gifts, silverware and jewelry adornments.


Two sets of ecclesiastical objects on display demonstrate the high level of craftsmanship of top jewelry makers of the time. One, a relief painting in the traditional Russian Icon style demonstrates a combination of varied techniques. The coronas (circles of light) seen around the luminous heads of Mary, the mother of Christ, and the Archangel Gabriel are decorated with polychrome enamel on filigree.

The jewelry adornments on show reveal the fad for insect-shaped jewelry from the late 19th to early 20th century under the influence of the Art Nouveau movement. Butterflies, beetles and dragonflies provided inspiration for artists and jewelers in creating brooches, hairpins and necklaces.


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