THE RESURRECTION EGG: A FABERGÉ GOLD, ENAMEL, ROCKCRYSTAL
AND JEWELED EASTER EGG,WORKMASTER MICHAEL PERCHIN, ST. PETERSBURG,
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.
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.” 14
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.
NOT E S:
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
1894 to 1903.
2. Tatiana Muntian, “Fabergé
im Kreml, ” in Hamburg, 1995.
3. Marina Lopato, “Fresh Light
on Carl Fabergé” in Apollo, January 1984.
5. Two letters addressed to Eugène
Fabergé dated March 11 and 13, 1934 (see Fabergé/Proler/Skurlov
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.