Easter – the main and especially revered Orthodox holiday in ancient Russia – had come to assume at the turn of the 20th century a whole new meaning both in the artistic culture of Russia in general and the works of Fabergé in particular. Joyous Easter Sunday, marking the Resurrection of Christ, was a holiday of human brotherhood and Christian love, which coincided with the arrival of spring, warmth, and the rebirth of nature. The solemn events leading up to Easter – the Holy night, the public exchange with the Christian kiss of peace, the festive table with a fixed array of ritual culinary items of food and, of course, the customary exchange of consecrated and coloured Easter eggs, was a custom that was practised in the Christian world. The painted Easter egg symbolizes Christ’s Resurrection, the redemption of the sins of mankind, a peculiar model of the world, and, since pre-Christian times, a symbol of fertility and abundance. The bright colouring of the egg is intended to convey the brightness and warmth of the sun and the variety of reviving forces in nature following the drab monotony of winter. In the popular tradition, Easter eggs were referred to as 'pisanki' (fancy patterned eggs). They were coloured using onions, beets, pieces of calico and other rough and ready materials. But aside from plain coloured eggs, there had long existed the custom of presenting wooden, glass, porcelain eggs or those, made from semi-precious gems, precious metals, or even bronze, as Easter gifts. During the 19th century, manufacturing Easter eggs had become a whole branch of Russian applied art.

The first Easter egg, which Fabergé created by order of Emperor Alexander III in 1885, was made of gold and decorated with white opaque enamel. There was a surprise inside – a gold and multi-shaded little hen, in which there was a miniature copy of the imperial crown and a tiny ruby egg pendant. Fabergé is thought to have found the source of inspiration for this masterpiece in an Easter egg crafted in the early 18th century and which belonged to the Danish royal family. This egg was exposed at an artistic and industrial exhibition in Copenhagen in 1879. Its ‘shell’ was made of ivory and the enamel-covered hen surprise contained a crown and a diamond ring. Together with the Danish royal couple, the exhibition was attended by Russian Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Perhaps this was where the Tsar got the idea to commission a similar egg for his spouse. But in executing his wish, Fabergé created not a copy, but rather his own variation of the ancient archetype. The egg was given as an Easter gift to Empress Maria Fyodorovna and pleased the royal clients so much that the commission became traditional. This is how the Easter theme took root in the creations of Fabergé. Every year during the Holy Week he would have another Easter masterpiece delivered to the Emperor. These works never failed to amaze the Tsar’s family because of the originality of their design, the novelty of their subject and the perfection of their craftsmanship. After the death of Alexander III, during the reign of his son, Fabergé masters began to make two Easter eggs - one for the widowed Empress Maria Fyodorovna and the other for the wife of Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna.  From 1885 until 1916 inclusive the firm executed fifty Easter eggs commissioned by the royal family.

These most august clients could not bear to see duplicates. Each subsequent egg had to differ from the previous one, and preferably exceed its predecessor by the way of its compositional inventiveness and unusual artistic technique. After making a simple egg with a hen inside, he went on to create a number of complex constructions. His eggs took the form of architectural construction – a Kremlin cathedral or a gazebo with a classical colonnade, or a blossoming laurel tree with a singing mechanical bird or a platinum basket with wildflowers encrusted with diamonds. Just as amazing were the surprises found inside the precious ‘shell’ of these egg cases: miniature ships made of gold and platinum, tiny models of monuments and palaces, folding icons with picturesque miniatures carved on ivory or mother of pearl. Some surprises were mechanical feats. They worked by winding up a small golden key and thus were set in motion. No other jewellery ‘project’ of that age had moved the Tsar’s family as profoundly and sincerely, touching them to the depth of their soul, as the precious Easter works to the creation of which the great jeweller devoted 30 years of his life.

Moscow Kremlin Museums can be proud of the fact that they possess the largest collection in the world of Fabergé Easter eggs. In addition, these are works associated with the history of Russia and the life of the Tsar’s family at the turn of the 20th century, the turning point in the fate of this great nation.