Exuberant eggs of fabulous Faberge

4th April 2003 at 01:00
Faberge

April 11-October 12 except April 18. The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, tel 0131 556 5100

There are home-dyed Easter eggs, hand-painted Easter eggs and chocolate Easter eggs and then there are Faberge Easter eggs. The first ones all of us can afford but Faberge's are only for the richest people in the world - if there was one available to buy. A Faberge egg last came up for auction in 1994, when it sold for more than $5 million.

However, for just a few pounds visitors to the Queen's Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse can see more than 300 pieces of Faberge's work from the Royal Collection, including the fabulous Mosaic Egg, shown here. Standing less than four inches high, the floral mosaics on this egg were created, not from enamel, but by setting hundreds of tiny rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds into a cagework of platinum, highlighted by waves of diamonds and rings of pearls.

The egg was made in 1914, in the St Petersburg workshops of Carl Faberge, who was appointed supplier to the Imperial Court by Tsar Alexander III of Russia in 1885. Having taken over his father's business, it grew from a traditional and modest goldsmith's into an international enterprise employing, at its peak, around 500 people.

The Mosaic Egg is one of 50 Easter eggs created exclusively for the Russian royal family. It was confiscated after the revolution, transferred to the government department set up to sell state treasures to the West and was eventually bought by King George V.

The British royal family had been fans of Faberge for years before that.

During a visit to St Petersburg in 1894, for instance, the Princess of Wales was said by her son (later King George V) to have got "half Faberge's shop" for her birthday.

What they lacked in eggs, they made up for in desk accessories, picture frames, cigarette boxes, ornamental plants and miniature model animals.

Many of the animals, including an agate hen with gold feet and diamond eyes, were commissioned by Edward VII. Faberge sent sculptors over from St Petersburg to Sandringham to first model the farmyard and domestic animals in wax.

Faberge died in 1920 in Lausanne after his business was destroyed during the Russian revolution.

Schools that pre-book their visit to the Queen's Gallery (entrance costs pound;2 per pupil) will be given basic exhibition notes and postcard illustrations. A schools co-ordinator is expected to be appointed soon at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and will have the job of running art workshops based on exhibitions at the gallery. In the meantime, schools' facilities include an education room, a lunch room and access to the e.gallery, an easy to use computer guide to the Royal Collection, the Royal residences and the history of the Royal family.

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