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WMF Report - Peter the Great Egg

1903 Easter gift to Alexandra, workmaster Michael Perchin

Peter the Great Egg (1903)

Materials –

Egg: varicolored gold, platinum, translucent yellow, and opaque white enamel, square-cut rubies, rose-cut diamonds, rock crystal, watercolor on ivory

Miniature statue: bronze, sapphire

Dimensions: Height of egg: 111 mm. (4 3/8 in.)

Diameter of egg: 83 mm. (3 1/4 in.)

Height of miniature: 39 mm. (1 9/16 in.)

Owner: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

This egg celebrates the 200th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg by Peter the Great. It is made of red, green, and yellow gold and platinum, is elaborately enriched with a rococo cage work of diamond and ruby set scrolls in the Louis XV style, with shells, foliage, and bulrushes in green gold, set with square-cut rubies. The dates 1703 and 1903 in rose-cut diamonds appear on either side of the lid.

Linked by quatre-couleur gold swags of roses, four miniature paintings formerly thought to have been by the court miniaturist Vasilii Zuiev, but now known to be by B. Byalz, show Peter the Great, the wooden hut that he is traditionally said to have built himself, Nicholas II, and the 1,000-room Winter Palace as it was in 1903. Each of the miniatures is covered by rock crystal. Opaque white enamel ribbons inscribed with relevant historical details encircle the upper and lower portions of this egg.

The inscriptions read:

  • The Emperor Peter the Great, born in 1672, founded St. Petersburg in 1703
  • The first little house of the Emperor Peter the Great in 1703
  • The Emperor Nicholas II, born in 1868, ascended the Throne in 1894
  • The Winter Palace of His Imperial Majesty in 1903
The body of the egg is covered with an interwoven medley of laurel leaves (triumph and eternity), roses (victory, pride, and heavenly joy), and bulrushes. These plants symbolize the faithful multitude by the source of the living waters. To the inhabitants of St. Petersburg, the River Neva was a counterpart of the Jordan. Every year, in the first week of January, the waters of the Neva were blessed; hence the bulrushes also denote the source of salvation.

As the egg is opened, a mechanism within raises a miniature replica in bronze, on a pedestal of sapphire, of Falconet’s monument on the Neva of Peter the Great on horseback. Catherine the Great had commissioned the monument from French sculptor Étienne Falconet in 1766. It depicts Peter charging up a boulder on horseback, his right hand extended in blessing, and his horse trampling the serpent of evil. The tiny, removable bronze model by Georgii Malychev, is surrounded by a carved gold railing, which is itself encircled by chains and posts pinned to an engraved gold pavement within a raised gold bezel in the form of a wall. A similar miniature replica in varicolored gold on a pedestal of emerald is in the Hillwood Museum and Gardens, Washington, DC.

In 1933 the egg was unclaimed at U.S. Customs, and subsequently purchased by Alexander Schaffer of A La Vieille Russie, New York, after paying import duty of $1,000–1,500.

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