A cruise stop in St. Petersburg, Russia, can be full of vast museums. One of the more digestible ones is the is the Faberge Museum, which houses the largest group of Faberge eggs in existence.
In addition to the eggs, the Faberge Museum holds thousands of examples of Russian decorative art, such as this clock also produced by Faberge. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst
Some 50 of the eggs were made by Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge, whose skill with enamel came to the attention of Czar Alexander III in the 1880s. The czar commissioned a series of jeweled eggs to give to his wife each year as a gift on Easter.
Each egg was to contain a "surprise" in the interior when opened, although at least one of them doesn't.
When Alexander's son Nicholas II was deposed and revolution broke out in Russia in 1917, the eggs scattered. Some were lost. Others ended up with American magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, whose family sold nine of them to Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, reportedly for more than $100 million.
Vekselberg opened the Faberge Museum in 2013 with the eggs as its prime attraction.
The Lilies of the Valley egg had enamel portraits of Czar Nicholas II and two daughters that emerged from the top. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst
The museum is unusual in St. Petersburg for being privately owned (by Vakselberg's foundation) and for being so new. But although the collection is new, it is housed in the 18th century Shuvalov Palace, a private mansion that was confiscated during the revolution and partly collapsed by a bomb during World War II.
Vekselberg restored the palace, which has a ballroom for 1,000. The eggs are part of a collection of 4,000 items meant to showcase repatriated Russian works of decorative applied and fine arts.
One egg that caught my attention was the Renaissance egg. It is the size of a hand, made of translucent bluish-gray agate and covered with a white enameled lattice set with diamond and ruby flowerheads.
Seeing it made me realize what the fuss was all about.
Another of the nine is the Lilies of the Valley egg, an exquisite pink art nouveau oval covered with pearls and presented by Nicholas II to his wife. A portrait of the emperor along with his two young daughters form a shamrock, which rotates upward when the egg is opened.
The Anniversary egg produced in 1911 marked the 15th anniversary of the Nicholas II coronation in 1896. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst
More tiny portraits can be seen on the Anniversary egg, commemorating the 15th anniversary of Nicholas II's coronation in 1896. It is made of gold, green and white enamel, decorated with diamonds and the surface is divided into eighteen panels set with 16 miniatures. It contains no surprise.
Other items in the museum range from enameled Faberge timepieces in a rainbow of colors to jewel-encrusted icon frames, which show an Asian influence that contrasts with Faberge's more European style.
All in all, both the eggs and the museum showcase the immense wealth commanded by the Russian aristocracy before it was swept away in the Revolution.