It's nearly Easter for some of us
I live in Sydney and it's nearly Easter. In Orthodox Russia, it'll be another month before they celebrate and exchange their eggs. It was the same gap in the calendar in 1894 when young Nicholas, destined to be the last Russian Tsar, was visiting Germany, and couldn't join the earlier festivities. He wrote in his diary: "It is not very convenient to keep Lent abroad and I had to refuse many things."
A short-lived tradition
The most famous Easter eggs of all time were those first ordered by Nicholas's father, Tsar Alexander III, from the court jeweller, Carl Fabergé. The first order, in 1885, established an imperial tradition that lasted only thirty-two years, yet, a century on, Fabergé’s eggs still captivate our imagination with their decadence, extravagant charm and ingenuity.
The Imperial Eggs
When Nicholas succeeded his father, he continued to order eggs each year from Fabergé, one for his wife and one for his mother. Each told a story revealed by a surprise nested within.
A secret ...
Fabergé conceived and developed his designs in secret, not even disclosing his patterns to the Tsar.
Perhaps not ...
But perhaps in the year 1900, Tsar Nicholas II had had an inkling of what Fabergé had in store for his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, when he took delivery of the Trans-Siberian Railway Egg.
Easter fell on the 9th April and a week later, came the opening of the Paris Exposition Universelle with countries from around the world displaying their art and inventions. The Russian Pavillion’s pièce de résistance was a display of carriages from the new Trans-Siberian Railway line, inaugurating an era of luxury passenger service that would revolutionise travel from Europe to the Far East and symbolised the growing industrial power of Russia.
A present for the Tsarina, but was it really to impress the Tsar?
Fabergé’s Trans-Siberian Egg was crowned with the Romanov eagle asserting the Tsar’s special connection with the railway project he had grown up with. His first official position was as President of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and as a young man returning from a grand world tour, he had laid the foundation stone of the track’s eastern terminus
The egg was a masterpiece.
Engraved on the silver shell was a route map of the track, each station marked with a jewel. The enameled lid opened to reveal a miniature train. Its locomotive, made of platinum, had diamond headlights and a ruby lantern and pulled five golden coaches. Each coach unique, ‘mail’, ‘for ladies only’, ‘smoking, ‘non-smoking’, and a chapel with miniature bells. And if that were not surprise enough, the tiny model was clockwork, wound-up with a gold key.
Why, to me, the Trans-Siberian Egg stands out from all the rest
I'll admit bias right now. I have been writing a book that describes my own journey on the Trans-Siberian Express. That journey was nearly fifty years ago and sixty years after the last imperial egg, but the heavy velvet curtains, polished wood and green lamp shades of the First Class carriage suggested imperial Russia was not so far away.
Threads run through all our lives and sometimes it is left to a biographer to see them. The Trans-Siberian ran relentlessly through the Tsar's life right to his untimely death.
The design of the Trans-Siberian Egg epitomises an era where technology and art flourished hand in hand and it signified a period of Russian hope and prosperity.
And it also smacks of a bizarre excess of questionable taste and a wanton squandering on baubles! A Russian court completely out of touch with reality.
Ultimately of course...
Tsar Nicholas II missed the brief window of opportunity for constitutional change. Delusion, denial and dreadful decisions made revolution inevitable. As Easter 1917 approached, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. Work on that year’s egg had already been abandoned. Carl Fabergé fled Russia and escaped to Switzerland but nothing could save the Tsar.
The Trans-Siberian Egg is displayed in the Kremlin Armoury, Moscow
I highly recommend a fascinating book - Fabergé’s Eggs by Toby Faber published by PAN
The Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg, Russia was set up by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian businessman, who is the single largest owner of Fabergé eggs.
There is also a Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany