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Peter Carl Fabergé
June 3, 2009 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Between 1885 and 1917, Peter Carl Fabergé and his assistants created 105 jeweled eggs, only 69 of which survive. They are regarded as masterpieces of the jeweler's art. The Rothschild egg is the most expensive timepiece ever sold at auction.
posted by Joe Beese (59 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know, Faberge eggs as a concept have always just been a part of the popular subconscious to me, I'd never actually seen pictures of one until now. They are absolutely exquisite. And this is a fascinating site. Nice post, Joe.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:16 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everything I knew about Fabergé eggs, I learned from Roger Moore. Until now. Thanks, JB.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:24 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't wait until my Beanie Babies become as rare and valuable!!
posted by FuManchu at 9:25 PM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many of the missing eggs are actually sitting locked away by private collectors who obtained them in a less than legal way.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:26 PM on June 3, 2009


I've got a Faberge egg. Powers the main dilation matrix of my MiniDelux SpaceoBit CorNair 5000. It burns real clean. Real clean. The best you can get in space/time lateral movement. Just wait until the rest of the galaxy finds out what a stash you're sitting on. Then they're get really rare.
posted by The Whelk at 9:31 PM on June 3, 2009


Alexander III Alexandrovich: "How do you like your eggs in the morning?"

Maria Fyodorovna: "Unfertilized... Fabergé will do."
posted by netbros at 9:31 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow! I wish I could think of something more articulate to say, but wow!
posted by amyms at 9:58 PM on June 3, 2009


Are those... pussywillows?
posted by hermitosis at 10:02 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


wow
posted by smackfu at 10:10 PM on June 3, 2009


I'd no idea that so few were made and that only about two-thirds of them survive. I'd always wondered what the big deal was about them, and this explains a lot.

The story of each individual egg is really interesting and I love the way that one can see a little sliver of world history through their individual tales.

But to me, they're rather grotesque. Over-adorned pointless baubles for the idle rich. I can see why trinkets so replete with symbolism and so obviously one-of-a-kind would delight those for whom they were made, but coming from that part of the world, and being an avid student of the history thereof, what I see in these eggs is mostly heartbreak, brutality and foreshadowing of the sadder parts of 20th Century history. Truth be told, I'd be a little scared to own one; they feel like they carry a bit of a curse or something . . . though I don't think I'dll ever be in a position for this to become a problem for me!

Great post nonetheless.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:13 PM on June 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


A fine article about Fabergé eggs by Clancy Martin in The London Review of Books. It starts out thus:
In 1999, while taking a break from my PhD to try to get rich in the fine jewellery business, I nearly became the world’s largest counterfeiter of Fabergé eggs. It all started in Arlington, Texas, where my brothers and I owned several jewellery stores. Boris, an alcoholic Russian ex-pat who’d been with us for years, came into my office one January morning – we’d just had a lousy Christmas season – and told me something he’d been keeping to himself for a while, that in St Petersburg the remnants of what had once been Fabergé were still in business, using the old equipment to make eggs and other enamelled pieces just as good as the ones in museums around the world. The jewellers hadn’t been paid in months; they were keen to find a home and a regular paycheck in America. Boris’s best friend was the shop-manager.
Things, of course, don't go according to plan. It touches on many aspects of Fabergé's history, including how Armand Hammer made the eggs famous in the West post-Revolution.
posted by Kattullus at 10:18 PM on June 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Fuck that. My Faberge bacon collection is a million time as awesome.
posted by w0mbat at 10:30 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


*sigh of bliss

What a great site. I've always wanted to see and know more about the extraordinary Fabergé eggs. One more amazing than the other, a crescendo of oohs and ahhs. I really love the guilloché enamelling on most of the eggs, sumptuous lustre.

The mosaic egg is marvelous.

Wonderful post. Thanks for the hour of pleasure.
posted by nickyskye at 10:36 PM on June 3, 2009


I tend to agree with what Dee Xtrovert said. These really don't evoke any interesting symbolism or convey any kind of ideal beyond commemorating the existence of rich people. They are pretty, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 PM on June 3, 2009


Jeeeeezus, I'd like to meet the goose what shat those!
posted by not_on_display at 10:47 PM on June 3, 2009


Apparently, some of the Faberge scholarship here is done by Geoffrey Munn at Wartski. Geoffrey Munn has long been my favourite expert on the Antiques Roadshow. It's almost unseemly how passionate Geoffrey gets when somebody brings along a nice jewel -- and when some old Granny turns up a piece of Faberge in a car boot sale or from their attic, the guy almost comes in his pants.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:50 PM on June 3, 2009


You know who else liked Fabergé eggs?
posted by friendlyjuan at 10:58 PM on June 3, 2009


I am partial to the nephrite egg with the little palace inside.
posted by hortense at 11:01 PM on June 3, 2009


See that egg over there? With that I could buy an entire nuclear power plant.
posted by benzenedream at 11:10 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I tend to agree with what Dee Xtrovert said. These really don't evoke any interesting symbolism or convey any kind of ideal beyond commemorating the existence of rich people. They are pretty, though.

I don't care about the dead rich people either, not one bit. I'm blown away by the handiwork, the artistry, the perfect detailing, even in the ones I don't find particularly pretty. Can't you see their value in that way? Many of the world's greatest artists created for some of the world's most odious individuals and organizations (catholic church/michaelangelo for instance), but that doesn't cancel out the artistry.
posted by zarah at 11:28 PM on June 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


Jeez, if someone chooses to not be impressed with something let them enjoy their meh.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:48 PM on June 3, 2009


beautiful, and a great website.

Though I do not think ironic means what the author thinks it means.
posted by wilful at 12:55 AM on June 4, 2009


I agree that the detail and handiwork on these eggs is mind-boggling. I appreciate them in the same way I appreciate garish baroque wall clocks in decorative art museum collections. Nothing that would ever look right in any house I'll ever live in. Though, when I was younger, and knew nothing about Imperial Russia, I thought the famous Faberge eggs were the same thing as the Franklin Mint Faberge eggs the women in my family proudly displayed in class cases. I thought we were so rich and classy! I was sorely disappointed.
posted by walrus hunter at 1:06 AM on June 4, 2009


Jinky's egg.
posted by the cuban at 1:10 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


My great-great-grandmother commissioned, as a gift to her son's fiancée on the announcement of their engagement, the only known Faberge Ped Egg. According to the reports, it was quite remarkable. Precision (and bejeweled) micro-files gently removed calluses and dead skin to give one's feet the incredible baby soft look and feel that everybody loves. Sadly, my distant relative's betrothed was put off by the clockwork grebe that would rise out of the egg, flap it's jewelled wings and cry "Jesus Christ! Just. Kill. ME!!" each time the egg was used.
Family legend had it sold off at a garage sale in 1923, and it's whereabouts remain a mystery.
posted by maryh at 1:32 AM on June 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I didn't know there were nifty things INSIDE these eggs!
posted by lauranesson at 2:27 AM on June 4, 2009


i wanna dip my balls in it
posted by camdan at 3:35 AM on June 4, 2009


Your favorite [insert anything here] sucks!

It took real huevos for me to say that
posted by syzygy at 5:02 AM on June 4, 2009


I saw the 15th Anniversary Egg on display at Biltmore House several years ago, when it was still part of the Forbes collection. It was absolutely exquisite; the detailing on the portraits is amazing. I'm kind of a Romanov nerd and it brought tears to my eyes - as a symbol both of the devotion the family had for each other, and the self-indulgence they displayed while being oblivious to the plight of their people.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:16 AM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


These are amazing works of art. Craftsmanship like this doesn't exist anymore. The world has changed too much, a sustained market has to exist in order for people to dedicate their lives to learning this degree of skill. Art such as the Faberge eggs or the Sistine Chapel could only have been created at their points in history in their oppressive societies. (Enormous wealth plus enormous control in feudal/fuedal-like societies with craftsman guilds = great works of art.)

Aside from architecture, I can't think of any modern works of art that rival these great works. I mean MOMA has wonderful works but I wouldn't put any in the same category as these. Am I overlooking someone/something?
posted by shoesietart at 6:04 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't know there were nifty things INSIDE these eggs!

They're like Kinder Surprises for the tsesarevitch who has everything.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:36 AM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


69. Eggs. Somehow, that seems dirty.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 6:47 AM on June 4, 2009


Craftsmanship like this doesn't exist anymore.

Oh please. Of course it does. Which makes me wonder (again) why no one has thought to make new eggs of this kind.

In 1989 the new management of Lever Fabergé, part of Unilever and owner of the name Fabergé, decided that the brand name Fabergé had to be tied to jewellery again. In 1990 they found a qualified workmaster in the house of Victor Mayer, which was founded over 100 years ago in Russia. The manufactory, managed by Dr. Herbert Mohr-Mayer, a grandson of the company's founder, had not only mastered the required techniques, but also fulfilled the Unilever prerequisites of craftsmanship needed to continue the work of Karl Fabergé.

Well, there we go.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:19 AM on June 4, 2009


Sweetie Darling, I was reading the page you linked to about the egg given by Nicholas II to the empress, covered by various miniature paintings, and suddenly my mind was boggled. I had not remembered what Nicholas II, the last tsar, looked like, and now he seemed strangely familiar.

This is what current Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, looks like.
posted by Anything at 7:36 AM on June 4, 2009


Craftsmanship like this doesn't exist anymore. Pfft. You have got to be kidding. We don't build pyramids anymore either - because nobody wants them!
posted by bigmusic at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2009


I'd like a pyramid.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:33 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I thought I wanted a pyramid, but then I saw geodesic domes. What kind of price can you give me on this?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:20 AM on June 4, 2009


Yes, but my pyramid will be as detailed as a Fabergé egg and will open on hinges to reveal a geodesic dome.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:34 AM on June 4, 2009


For geodesic domes - start here.
For pyramids - start here.
posted by bigmusic at 9:37 AM on June 4, 2009


Dee Xtrovert, I thought about your comment last night and this morning. Especially your saying "what I see in these eggs is mostly heartbreak, brutality and foreshadowing of the sadder parts of 20th Century history". To me it sounded like you wanted an artwork or something that gives you pleasure to be unrealistically pure, without any connection to suffering, simplistically existing with no negative shadows. But I don't think that's possible.

Even the simplest of pleasures, ones that might seem most innocent, have shadows. For example, the piece of bread one toasted for breakfast or the vegetables in for lunch were created by killing or putting countless sentient beings out of their home in the field where the wheat or vegetables were grown, all the little bunnies who lived in the field before it was plowed, the bugs, lizards, snakes in the earth destroyed. The critters displaced in making the roads one drives on.

Many artists whose work I enjoy immensely, were not nice people. Many did hateful things to others or themselves. Gauguin was a bastard to his family, Van Gogh mentally ill and self mutilating, Picasso relentlessly exploitative of the women in his life, especially the ones he painted, Bette Davis a momster to her daughter. All that doesn't stop me from enjoying their work. Knowing they or the situation around the work were flawed, heartbreaking or part of a painful historical brocade of events, actually enhances and deepens my appreciation of the art. The pleasure gets mixed with compassion and hopefully some understanding or broader perspective.

It's possible to sustain complex feelings about the beauty of something.
posted by nickyskye at 11:13 AM on June 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Nicky Skye -

I don't actually feel that art should necessarily be disconnected from the darker side of humanity and I certainly don't look for some sort of morally clear purity with art. In fact, most of my favorite artists (visual or musical or whatever) tend to show a bit more of man's darker side than seems to be popularly accepted - there are no Claude Monet floral scenes in my bathroom, believe me.

I actually admire the works of some of the artists you mentioned, despite their dark sides. It's perhaps hard to imagine connecting to some artists even if they were good - Karadzic wrote poems, for instance. They weren't very good, but I can't imagine bringing myself to own them, even if them had been of high quality. But that's probably a massive exception. People can be total bastards and yet create works of astonishing power and beauty. I've actually laid awake at night just pondering the meaning and epic beauty of Où venons-nous? Qui sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? although the arist (Gauguin) was truly a heartless man in many ways.

But there's a big difference between the work of the artists you mention and the Fabergé eggs. That is that the artists you mentioned managed to transcend their personal horribleness to create great art. That is to say, their personal nastiness was transcended by their art. I don't know why Van Gogh or Gauguin painted what they did the way they did, but their artwork stands on its own, almost as if it had descended directly from the gods. By itself, their art is powerful and, in a way, quite pure. Not that this purity isn't rooted in all sorts of dark shadows, mind you.

Unlike the artists you name, it's difficult to find anything bad to say about Fabergé the artist. I could infer that he was a bit of a toady for fairly abhorrent people, which is probably true. But that aside, the "heartbreak, brutality and foreshadowing of the sadder parts of 20th Century history" I see in these pieces isn't rooted in his background. Nor is it rooted in the eggs themselves, although personally, I don't find them compelling, even if the craftsmanship and detail are superb. Rather, those negative attributes I perceive in these works is in the intent behind their creation . . . to flatter and extol people and ideologies that caused heartbreak, destruction and misery for millions, over the course of a century and without real examination of whether they might be worthy of such flattery or exaltation. They are, in a sense, quite masturbatory works of art. Even if one ignores (or is ignorant of) all of this, I just don't see the same sense of wonder, questioning and illumination (pure or impure) in these eggs as I see in, for example, Gauguin's work.

I saw once a catalog which showed various objets d'art given as gifts to Hitler. These too were marvelously detailed and well-crafted pieces. Devoid of the swastikas and eagles and Gothic lettering which adorned them, and stripped of the purpose of boosting the ego of the leader of the Third Reich, these would have been art museum-worthy pieces. But as they were, the simply seemed ghoulish and tragic - art failed in its purpose. Quite like the Fabergé eggs, from what I see.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:27 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dee Xtrovert: It must be hell on you to look at any of the Renaissance masterpieces, then... or to contemplate artworks from the ancient world. What goes Picasso's Guernica inspire within you, if these "baubles" inspire such angst?

I saw an exhibit of the Eggs in Europe back in 1987 or 1998, and subsequently worked in a jewelry production house. I have a fairly minor idea of what it took to create those masterworks, and they are equivalent to any Michelangelo fresco in the Vatican. And while they are very much gifts from the rich to the rich, I cannot see how these should carry any more of a moral weight than any of the crown jewels of the royal houses past and present.

The story I had heard years ago was that most of the eggs had been destroyed during the Russian Revolution, pried apart and sold for parts to fund The People. I'm glad to learn that so many are still around, and that they are nearly all, now, in public museums for the masses to enjoy.
posted by hippybear at 10:33 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think you totally missed Dee Xtrovert's point due to your fapping appreciation for the eggs.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:42 PM on June 4, 2009


Burhanistan: I don't think I did. I think that context is important, but allowing it to form a filter against appreciation of artworks pretty much disallows enjoying any art that isn't Blue's Clues. I understand her point, but if I carry it to it's logical conclusion, it excludes everything.
posted by hippybear at 11:04 PM on June 4, 2009


...and even Blue's Clues sort of did a number on Steve Burns... so now I can't even enjoy that?
posted by hippybear at 11:06 PM on June 4, 2009


She wasn't carrying to your logical point, however. Just stating that these eggs are more just well-crafted trinkets commissioned for wealthy tyrants that really don't convey any deeper meaning for her.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:07 PM on June 4, 2009


Honestly? Really? No deeper meaning for her?

But to me, they're rather grotesque. Over-adorned pointless baubles for the idle rich. I can see why trinkets so replete with symbolism and so obviously one-of-a-kind would delight those for whom they were made, but coming from that part of the world, and being an avid student of the history thereof, what I see in these eggs is mostly heartbreak, brutality and foreshadowing of the sadder parts of 20th Century history. Truth be told, I'd be a little scared to own one; they feel like they carry a bit of a curse or something . . . though I don't think I'dll ever be in a position for this to become a problem for me!

Hard to see "no deeper meaning" in that paragraph.
posted by hippybear at 11:16 PM on June 4, 2009


...and in her follow-up post she compares the eggs to artworks crafted with Nazi symbolism as gifts to the Third Reich.

I am not sure YOU grasped her meaning, Burhanistan.
posted by hippybear at 11:17 PM on June 4, 2009


Dee Xtrovert: It must be hell on you to look at any of the Renaissance masterpieces, then... or to contemplate artworks from the ancient world. What goes Picasso's Guernica inspire within you, if these "baubles" inspire such angst?

I saw an exhibit of the Eggs in Europe back in 1987 or 1998, and subsequently worked in a jewelry production house. I have a fairly minor idea of what it took to create those masterworks, and they are equivalent to any Michelangelo fresco in the Vatican. And while they are very much gifts from the rich to the rich, I cannot see how these should carry any more of a moral weight than any of the crown jewels of the royal houses past and present.

Yikes. First of all, Guernica is pretty much like a home movie to me. I've seen that level of violence - and then some - firsthand. My personal feeling is that the real horrors of war are inherently impossible to depict as well as just about any other life experience one might have. I can look at Guernica and just marvel at the real art. It's illuminating. It transcends the time and place and circumstances of its creation. That's really art. But on a personal level, it doesn't come close to the real thing, and actually feels a bit like a cartoon to me. It's memorable in a way that's engrossing. You want to look at it. The real thing? Not so much, believe me. That's part of its genius, even though I'm not a fan as such . . . it forces the observer to engage in ideas and situations that would, in real life, turn one's head. It makes you look at an experience in a new and thought-provoking way, just as it was intended to do. It doesn't get more "art" than that, even if I can personally take it or leave it.

I don't doubt, not for one second, that Fabergé was a genius at what he did. This does not, however, make what he did "art." I concede that these are precious, priceless works, but they are pointless baubles for the idle rich still. You may believe that the craftsmanship involved is on a par with that of Michelangelo's fresco at the Vatican. Fair enough. I'd disagree, though I'll concede you might make an argument of it. But you err, in that you imply that art is little more than manifestation of astonishing technical skill, when in fact art may be of the highest order without even a modicum of skill involved. Michelangelo was highly skilled and (at least some of) his work existed only because the Catholic Church funded it, to their small credit. But in relation to what he did - which was incredible and spirit-altering for many - the shadiness of his financing or the evils committed by his patrons is only an interesting historical detail. He transcended all of those details though his own vision.

I can understand your "fapping appreciation" for the eggs. But it's as simplistic an overstatement to mistake Fabergé's attention to detail and technical perfection for something that illuminates and transcends as it is for me to consider the cook at the Green Mesquite an "artist" because he makes BBQ ribs exactly as how I think they should be made. Will people look at those eggs and see God? It's unlikely. Will they marvel at the everlasting power, might and glory of the Czar? It would be silly to think so, even if that's their purpose. This is failed art. It neither went beyond nor achieved its purpose. We were left with very nice baubles, though.

I wrote: But to me, they're rather grotesque. Over-adorned pointless baubles for the idle rich. I can see why trinkets so replete with symbolism and so obviously one-of-a-kind would delight those for whom they were made, but coming from that part of the world, and being an avid student of the history thereof, what I see in these eggs is mostly heartbreak, brutality and foreshadowing of the sadder parts of 20th Century history. Truth be told, I'd be a little scared to own one; they feel like they carry a bit of a curse or something . . . though I don't think I'dll ever be in a position for this to become a problem for me!

Hippybear wrote: Hard to see "no deeper meaning" in that paragraph.

On the surface, that's a fair response to Burhanistan. But on the other hand, you're mistaking my revulsion at the historical symbolism that these objects carry with any sort of artistic intent at creating "deeper meaning." Their "deeping meaning" is a creation of historical reality, not the work of the artist. As with "artworks" created for Hitler, the eggs aren't really art for one simple reason: they fail at their intended purpose and don't offer much else other than curiosity. (One of my favorite places is the "Microscopic Museum" in the Hungarian town of Szentendre. For a couple of dollars, you can look at (via microscopes) incredibly detailed scenes, carved onto pieces of rice. It's great, it's fun. It's mind-blowing to consider the skill involved in their creation. But it's obviously not "art," but rather fine examples of craftsmanship. The eggs are a few steps above those pieces of rice, but their basically no different - just pricier, rarer and harder to make.)

Fabergé's goal - pretty obviously - was to extol the virtues of the Czar and his family, the regime they ruled over, the organized religion which was interwoven with the regime and used to provide it legitimacy. Fabergé's work was an homage to these people and institutions, much in the same way (as I mentioned before) that the objects presented to Hitler paid tribute to his leadership, power and ideas. Neither these objects nor the Fabergé eggs transcended the time, place and circumstances of their creation. They are, at best, marvelously crafted and valuable historical curios.

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Well, we still have two-thirds of the eggs for now. But already, their intended meaning and purpose have been obliterated by the sands of time, and we've lost a third of them. This is a quick collapse for supposed "art," especially since we can still trace present human suffering to the time and milieu in which the eggs were made.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:58 AM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dee Xtrovert: First off all, let me say "thank you" for your impassioned writing in response to a minor pissing match between myself and Burhanistan. It was not expecting to read anything from you on this, and was surprised to find such an elegant setting-forth of your point of view regarding the Eggs.

I still am not sure I, personally, could hold your point of view about these artworks and not find myself equally repulsed by just about any work of art created at the behest of a Patron through the ages, which was much of Western art up through ~1900. Nor could I even begin to approach the works of artists such as Warhol, because of the human cost of The Factory. I simply cannot carry the weight of the background of everything around with me and disregard anything which wasn't created simply for pure artistic expression as historical curios. Perhaps that is a shallow American mindset. If it is, I stand justly accused. I like to try I have some historical context to whatever art I'm experiencing, but it is my experience with the art, today, which carries the true meaning, regardless of the means by which that art came into being.

In that context, I would find myself repulsed and fascinated by the Nazi treasures, just as I find myself repulsed and fascinated by the current traveling exhibitions of artfully re-crafted and preserved human cadavers which we find today. They are both art, but I do not find them appealing, both because of the content and execution of their subject matter. I find much of Michelangelo unappealing because of its heavy Jesus factor, but I cannot deny that he (and his crew) created amazing masterworks.

Can I ask, if this isn't too bold or nitpicky, are there ANY examples of jewelry work which you would classify as "art"? I suggested in an earlier comment that the Eggs were equivalent in many ways to any of the collections of crown jewels we find in national museums all over Europe. There is no doubt that creating works from precious stones and metals is ALWAYS going to be creating baubles for the rich on some level, so I wonder if there can ever be an expression within that realm which does NOT carry the same kind of moral baggage which you so eloquently express attached to the Eggs?

Again, thank you so much for your writing. You have illuminated a point of view which never occurred to me, and it is wonderful and refreshing to have a new lens through which to view something, even if I am not entirely sure that lens fits me very well.
posted by hippybear at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


hippybear: I still am not sure I, personally, could hold your point of view about these artworks and not find myself equally repulsed by just about any work of art created at the behest of a Patron through the ages, which was much of Western art up through ~1900.

I am not Dee Xtrovert nor do I pretend to speak for her. As for myself my reaction to the Fabergé eggs is not all that dissimilar to hers. They seem to me nothing but gaudy, kitschy baubles. They are very well made, it's true, the craftsmanship is amazing and I'm not taking anything away from that. For me, however, I can only marvel at fine craftsmanship for so long. Aesthetically the eggs offer very little to me so I start thinking about their historical background. An artwork that clicks with me on an aesthetic level will have me thinking about it on that level. Whether Pope Foozle was a good guy or not is not very important when I'm enraptured by the beautiful pietà he commissioned.

If a work of art or literature is of high aesthetic value to me I don't think about how it got made, it creates too many thoughts in my brain for me to bring in anything else.
posted by Kattullus at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2009


Can I ask, if this isn't too bold or nitpicky, are there ANY examples of jewelry work which you would classify as "art"?

Jewelry offers something of a limited palette of expression. I think we'd all agree that (despite the fact that most of us would do either ineptly), it'd a lot easier to depict the horrors of war in a painting such as Guernica than it would be in a necklace. So jewelry, as an art form, has some strikes against it: It's harder to be specific about subject matter. It has to rely more on inference to convey its message. To convey the same message as, say, a painting, would generally take a much, much longer time to do.

This is why jewelry-making is properly regarded as a craft rather than an art. Of course, "art" has a nebulous meaning, and in relation to jewelry, it tends to lose the meaning it has in painting or literature to instead convey the idea of "a particularly excellent craft." The Fabergé eggs? Fine crafts, lousy (or failed) art. Ditto the crown jewels deposited around European museums - excellent crafts, pretty much non-goers as art. Would I like to own the British crown jewels for myself? Absolutely! I'm a girl, I love that stuff! But that still doesn't make it art. The crown jewels, too, are only baubles. Baubles I covet, but I am not so dishonest as to persuade myself to believe that my coveting of these beautiful objects turns them into art somehow.

Which is not to say the jewelry and art are mutually exclusive. I can't recall the country (maybe Georgia? or Armenia?) where ancient gold charms occasionally wash from eroding cliffs. These charms are totemic in nature, with representations of simple living things. The design in incredible, considering their ancient origins. But most importantly, one can see the beginnings of mankind grappling with issues of higher powers, mortality and spirituality of these pieces . . . questioning and reaching for answers. These pieces are really powerful and pure and I can't imagine their messages and metaphysical might dimming ever at all; they must be as powerful now as they were in the time of their creation. (Anyone know the specifics on these? I'd love a link.)

I love Art Deco jewelry, too. I like its bright and optimistic message, which implies that mankind is on the cusp of controlling his world like as God once did, refining the manmade to a point of equity with the fluidity of nature, mastering his destiny . . . the creation of a New Bright Age where the problems of society are as subtle as the smooth lines and slight curves of Art Deco design. And you have to love its inner conceits, such as the use of a (then-) new manmade material, Bakelite, as a "new jewel," which reinforce the idea that man's dominance of his world is now nearly complete.

Art Deco, like the gold charms, is largely totemic. It transcends without actually getting in over its head, which is a problem with jewelry as art - it's and art form that largely requires simplicity of form and message. More complex expressions, such as the Fabergé eggs, tend to sink from their own weight and lead down blind alleyways to failure. These expressions turn to baubles, nearly at the time of their creation.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:32 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


What a delightfully stimulating conversation, Dee Xtrovert and hippybear. Seconding and agreeing with your well articulated opinions hippybear.

I can understand that for Dee Xtrovert the historic context of the eggs overshadows what for me is their beauty.

Burhanistan, I really don't appreciate your being offensive with "fapping appreciation" comment. Ack, what a jerk thing to say. And it's not true that hippybear missed the point at all. Just because it's not your taste is no reason to shit on somebody else's enjoyment so arrogantly, especially when that person wasn't being at all offensive or discourteous to you.

Dee Xtrovert went from not liking the eggs because they remind her too much of the political background from which they came to a whole gamut of reasons, which I think are less valid. For example because the people to whom they were given were not to her liking. Or the motivation for the giving is speculated to be not to her political of social liking. But then, there is denigrating the eggs on the basis that craftsmanship is not art. Or that art has to be symbolic or totemic. Well an egg is a symbol. The hen laying the egg could be said to be totemic in this context as it contained a miniature crown, representative of the czars.

Dee Xtrovert's basis for her dislike for the eggs were slipping and sliding all over the place. Does motivation make a work of art? Is it the correct political background? Is it "the right" symbolism? Is it the character of the person who commissions the work of art? If the artist has greed or flattery in his or her heart does that invalidate the work as being art?

Rereading her statement that she simply doesn't like the eggs because they remind her too much of the political background is more valid, imo, than saying they aren't up to being art objects because the Czars were bastards or speculating on the emotional motivation of Fabergé on giving the eggs. Fabergé was a jeweler by trade. He was commissioned professionally by one royal to make the first egg, as an Easter gift for another royal. It was a job. Something with a surprise in the middle for somebody in the royal family. And then it became a regular job for every Easter. Presumably his motivation was partly making a living.

However, Fabergé took the job to a higher level, which I think transcends mere craftsmanship the way some architecture is not merely functional but art, that some decorative or functional items are the blending of form, function, sculpture and art. Samurai swords were for killing people, not nice motivation and probably meant to protect some bastards too. But on occasion they and their accessories are beyond mere craftsmanship and may still be perceived as works of art. The Taj Mahal is merely a grave, monument and mausoleum but I think it's a work of art. Bernini's salt cellar is considered art. What about the charming Netsukes, elegant Ming vases, folk art from all over the world, I think they're art too, not mere craftsmanship.

Fabergé could have made something merely pretty but he and his craftsmen -Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström, Erik August Kollin, made something unusually beautiful, original, marvelously proportioned, exquisite, full of charm and, to many, art. Whatever they are, I still enjoy their beauty, which, for me, includes their complex background and turbulent time in history.
posted by nickyskye at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2009


Nicky, I agree with you in much of what you write. Unfortunately, though, you've largely distorted what I've said in order to make your apparent disagreements with what I wrote appear in sharper contrast to your beliefs. You list "my" reasons:

For example because the people to whom they were given were not to her liking.

I don't care at all about to whom these eggs were presented in and of itself. It wouldn't sway my opinion on Guernica if it had been commission by Bernie Madoff, for instance. Where you might be confused is in the fact that these artworks were commissioned by the same group of people they were meant to exalt. So really, the people whom they celebrated were not to my liking. But that's a separate thing.

Or the motivation for the giving is speculated to be not to her political of social liking.

1) But it's no secret that the motivation for giving was to flatter! Are you actually arguing that? Because in many biographies of the royal family, and in many histories of the era, this subject is addressed directly. Generally, these eggs (and similar gifts) were given with pronouncements stating the exact purpose of the gift. In this sense these were less like boxes from under the Christmas tree than awards, with the primary purpose of celebration and exhortation.

2) Nearly all the overt symbolism in all of these eggs does just that - flatters and glorifies the recipients and their beliefs. If you don't understand the symbolism (and I can't expect many to readily identify early 20th Century pro-Czarist, pro-Orthodox Church-as-instilling-legitimacy-in-he-ruling-classes symbolism, to be honest), that's fine . . . but don't confuse an inability to accurately interpret their symbolism with a lack of obviousness. By the admission of the family, Fabergé could have crafted eggs adorned in any sort of way . . . he chose to make many of them overtly referential of the royal family, their beliefs and ideologies. Read into it what you will. It was undoubtedly good business, which is fine. But it's hard not to see this as general agreement with these ideas. And of course, no one forced him to do any of this.

3) The policies, beliefs, actions and non-actions by Czar Nicholas II and others resulted in nearly a century of misery. That's rather beyond dispute. I don't think that this is simply a matter of my "political or social liking," unless you are a wacko apologist for the regime. I doubt you'd make the same statement if I were criticizing Nazi art . . . they're really isn't any difference, Nicky. Except the crimes of the House of Romanov isn't often fodder for pulp paperbacks and Harrison Ford movies the ways the Third Reich was.

But then, there is denigrating the eggs on the basis that craftsmanship is not art.

I never said this. Craftsmanship can be art (or more properly, a component of art.) But it isn't necessarily so.

Or that art has to be symbolic or totemic.

I never said this either, though I'm rather hard pressed to think of any examples where this isn't so. Art is art in part because it connects with something within us. This, of course, is the root of symbolism.

Well an egg is a symbol. The hen laying the egg could be said to be totemic in this context as it contained a miniature crown, representative of the czars.

Symbolism and the totemic do not mark art, any more than the craftsmanship does. They're just signifiers for what might be art. Easter's the most powerful special day in the Orthodox Christian world - much more so than it is in America. Most people in Russia in Czarist times were closely tied to the land - this is truer than you'd think even today. Winters were brutal, and the appearance of Easter carried loads of symbolic importance - the earth was soft again, the water ran, work began in the fields, socializing was possible once more. Eggs are still colored and passed around on streets around Easter, the symbolism of the egg being (obviously) one of rebirth. Rebirth implies a certain renewed purity. This powerful symbol was used for these eggs (especially in the example you provide) to connect these "natural" ideas to the "natural" rule of the Romanovs. The Orthodox Church had long ago co-opted the image of the egg at Easter, which was powerfully symbolic even in pre-Christian times, and representative of Christ's return. Fabergé did an admirable job of putting all this together, in a form flattering to the Czar (who clearly would have understood the imagery and approved of its use) and useful as propaganda to the masses (each egg was widely described in papers and discussed in public.)

You can say "Dee Xtrovert's basis for her dislike for the eggs were slipping and sliding all over the place," but it's all the same thing really . . . I'm just explaining it from different angles. I don't see how that comment is any less offensive than Burhanistan's "fapping appreciation" one. Don't we all have fapping appreciation for something? Why hide it?

I've conceded the craftsmanship of these eggs. I do understand that people can take aesthetic delight in them, even if I don't share it. My point of view, when one comes down to it, is simply that these eggs don't transcend the unfortunate circumstances of their creation. I guess to that, I should add a postscript, which is: Unless you don't really understand the symbolism and the history behind them. Without that, I suppose, you can enjoy the part of the eggs you can see.

Thank you Nicky and Burhanistan and Hippybear for a good discussion! I spoke to a friend in Romania (who's quite into art) and asked what she thought about Fabergé eggs. "Oh god," she said, "don't you just hate that stuff?" I knew that for her, like me, the monstrous symbols and the history of these eggs overwhelmed anything else, and we didn't have to talk about it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:15 PM on June 5, 2009


Dee Xtrovert, you said "art failed in its purpose" because artworks were "given as gifts to Hitler".

It would seem from your words that you do, in fact, care "about to whom these eggs were presented in and of itself" and that if the person to whom the art is given is not a person to your liking then "art failed in its purpose".

You said "it's no secret that the motivation for giving was to flatter". I would only presume that the purpose was to please and imagine that the commissions were asked to be commemorative, for anniversaries, to honor events in the lives of the royals who were to be the recipients. But even if the motivation of Fabergé were intended as flattery, so what? Throughout history royals, military leaders or rich people -some of whom might have been horrible people in their lives- have had portraits commissioned in which the artist depicted them in a flattering light. That didn't stop the portraits from being art or worthy of being enjoyed. And Fabergé's motivation doesn't negate the artistry of the designers of the eggs, nor the exquisite workmanship that went into making them.

Who knows what is in the heart of any artist at the time a work of art is created? I don't think their motivation invalidates the beauty of the artwork.

If by "the overt symbolism" or "overtly referential of the royal family" you mean portraits of the royals or a miniature of their palace, carriage, of a ship one sailed on, that's where the royals lived, how they looked or elements of their lives. They were representative of the people who were being given the eggs.

It seems like you aliken the Romanovs to the Nazis and anything associated with the Romanovs, including the eggs made by Faberge are overwhelmingly unacceptable to you. I see that. That's the not the way I feel.

If you do not mind your appreciation as being called fapping, you are welcome to that term. It's not how I think of my or others' appreciation.
posted by nickyskye at 11:09 PM on June 5, 2009


The fapping comment was, I believe, an attempt at snark which didn't come across correctly, as the author didn't actually read what I or the other parties had written. I certainly have appreciation for the Eggs; I doubt I would call it "fapping" in its intensity. My friends all know I fap much more over NIN than over jewelry any day.

Still, I would love to have an afternoon with a variety of the Eggs and a jeweler's loupe. I probably wouldn't fap, but I might get a stiffie.

posted by hippybear at 12:01 AM on June 6, 2009


Gee, even the object of the "fapping" insult understood in a humorous light!

Again, Nicky, you have more or less taken things out of context in order to misrepresent my beliefs. You wrote:

Dee Xtrovert, you said "art failed in its purpose" because artworks were "given as gifts to Hitler".

That's not at all what I wrote. Here's what I actually said:

I saw once a catalog which showed various objets d'art given as gifts to Hitler. These too were marvelously detailed and well-crafted pieces. Devoid of the swastikas and eagles and Gothic lettering which adorned them, and stripped of the purpose of boosting the ego of the leader of the Third Reich, these would have been art museum-worthy pieces. But as they were, the simply seemed ghoulish and tragic - art failed in its purpose. Quite like the Fabergé eggs, from what I see.

This is consistent in what I've been saying all along - contrary to your miscategorization of that as "slipping and sliding." The gifts were given to Hitler. I should point out - to make it really clear - that Hitler also got a lot of neat stuff that truly was art! The particular pieces of which I wrote weren't great artworks. The 'why' - as I've already explained in conjunction with the Romanovs / eggs - is simple. And that is that what they attempted to do was to show that the Third Reich and the Führer were transcendent, eternal. They didn't do that, obviously. Thus they remain excellently-crafted pieces, not transcendent ones.

Who knows what is in the heart of any artist at the time a work of art is created? I don't think their motivation invalidates the beauty of the artwork.

As to the first part, right, who knows? Except in Fabergé's case we actually do know. What's in the heart of an artist sometimes is expressed in words by the artist.

And to the second part, I agree with you up to a point. I've seen weird artwork intended to glorify Satan, or other evil "beings." I may not like the motivation at all - there are clearly a lot of figures of great dispute in the world's history. Yet sometimes the motivation of the artist produces a work which is a "success" in relation to its goal. Unless the goal is just really stupid or inane, that's usually art. How does this idea reflect on the eggs? Well, it doesn't. Fabergé wasn't simply trying to make something "pretty" or "well-crafted." Fabergé was trying to represent the Romanovs as "righteous rulers," connected through God's will to the one true church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and as a power whose might is continually reborn, just like Jesus, springtime and chickens.

But ultimately, it's not only Fabergé's motivation - as pathetic and ultimately tragic-seeming as it was, that prevents these eggs from entertaining the domain of art. It's the fact that he tried to portray the Romanovs, their beliefs and their power as something which would transcend time. It didn't. That's why to (I suspect) most people with knowledge of all this, and the capability of really understanding the symbolism within it, either don't like the eggs at all, or on the positive side regard them as fascinating historical curios - rather like the Liberty Bell or something, but read: not art, really.

If an artist's intent isn't much of what's judged, than art can simply be the result of accident or mistake. I spill paint on canvas, the confluence of positioning of the canvas and the natural fact of gravity create something - by chance - which is astonishingly beautiful. There was no intent nor any motivation. Is that art? No. It's simply an interesting accident; something not altogether different from a sunset or the colors of a cardinal.

Picasso, I think it was, once said something along the lines of "No matter how big one's audience gets, the number of people who truly understand remains constant." I'd go along with that. And it's possible - likely, even - that what he meant is that tons of people might like something, but most of them probably don't have enough of a clue to legitimize their aesthetic sense. At least not to the artist.

In light of this, I have to ask myself: How would Fabergé feel about these eggs today, if he suddenly reappeared on Earth? I'm sure - like you or me - he might admire the intense craftsmanship. But what they were supposed to say, or represent - the beliefs he symbolically touted and eternal. Spectacularly failed. I can't help but to imagine that this would taint those works. I imagine he'd be much harsher towards them than I am. At least once he got past the initial shock of a world changed in ways of which he was terribly, terribly wrong in prophesizing.

Nicky, you've described the beauty you see in these eggs. You've described the incredible craftsmanship. I don't think the eggs are beautiful, but that's a subjective thing and I wouldn't deny you your opinion. Craftsmanship I also agree with.

But these qualities, which you defend as characteristics of art are not enough. They describe fully well the pair of handmade Italian boots I saved six months to buy, so unless you have a nearly all-encompassing definition of art as anything beautiful and amazingly well-crafted, what else is there? Most artists judge their work on how well it achieved its purpose. I start there, as it's a logical choice.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:41 PM on June 6, 2009


As I said, your arguments why you don't like the eggs are all over the place, alikening the Romanovs to the Nazis, not liking Fabergé's motivation, speculating what his thoughts might be now if he were alive, discussing theory of art.

Basically, it seems to come down to your not accepting the dark side of the eggs. That invalidates their being art to you. It does not for me.
posted by nickyskye at 11:04 AM on June 7, 2009


unless you have a nearly all-encompassing definition of art as anything beautiful and amazingly well-crafted, what else is there? Most artists judge their work on how well it achieved its purpose. I start there, as it's a logical choice.

What is wrong with finding art in anything that is beautiful or well-crafted? Shaker furniture can be art. A nicely arranged table for a holiday feast can be art. An oddly-knotted tree trunk can be art. (But when photographed, would the photo be more "art" than the subject?)

Why does your definition of Art even have "purpose" as a part of it? Surely Art is what we do within our world which HAS no purpose beyond its simple existence. An individual's interaction with a work of art creates a very personal moment in time which cannot be objectified or even anticipated by any artist. As such, "achieving purpose" is an impossible statement to make about Art as a concept, or even about individual cases.

It is becoming more apparent to me that, no matter how many times anyone might express that they admire and like the Eggs and find within them artistic expression, the argument will be put forth once again that they are NOT art, and should never be regarded as such by any thinking person. Any statement of "we think differently" will be met with a rebuttal which insists that we should all think the same. As with any good piece of Art, the Eggs have inspired passionate, conflicting views. This is how it should be, but steamrolling others into agreeing with one's views about Art shows a lack of understanding about how such things work within the human psyche.
posted by hippybear at 11:55 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


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