One museum that I recommend visiting is the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, a small, elegant museum that exhibits the favorite jewels of the czars, among which the famous Easter eggs are the most notable. It is located in downtown St. Petersburg in a beautiful, recently restored 18th century palace. In this article I’ll tell you everything about this little gem of a museum.
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1. A Little Gem of a Museum
A museum that I recommend visiting in St. Petersburg and that usually goes mostly unnoticed by tourists is the Fabergé Museum, perhaps because it is a fairly recent museum (it opened in 2013). The fact is that it is usually a pleasant surprise for all those who visit it.
It is located in the heart of St. Petersburg, on the Fontanka Canal, very close to Nevsky Avenue and you can tour it in just over 1 hour.
It is a private museum which houses some of the famous Fabergé eggs, the most expensive Easter eggs in the world as well as some extraordinary items of Russian goldsmithing from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Not only does the Fabergé Museum house eggs, but the museum tour includes more than 4,000 artistic works of different origins and also from centuries before the eggs.
You can buy tickets on the same day of the tour. It’s not worth buying them online, since it’s not a huge museum like the Hermitage.
In this article I’ll tell you everything about Fabergé eggs and about the visit to this small but elegant museum that I’m sure you’ll love.
2. A bit about the history of Fabergé eggs
Peter Carl Fabergé (St. Petersburg, 1846 – Lausanne, Switzerland 1920) was Russia’s most famous and emblematic jeweler and the creator of the Fabergé eggs.
He started in a family workshop in St. Petersburg in 1870 and soon made his own name in goldsmithing. From 1885 he worked for the Russian imperial court of the Romanov, although he also worked for other European royalty.
The origin of Fabergé eggs
At Easter in Russia there is a centuries-old tradition of coloring eggs by hand and taking them to church to be blessed and then giving them to friends or family.
The highest strata of St. Petersburg society developed the custom of giving Easter gifts adorned with jewels. This is how Emperor Alexander III got the idea of commissioning the creation of a special Easter egg as a surprise for the Empress. And so the first imperial Easter egg was created in 1885.
This first egg was completely white on the outside, like the egg of a chicken, but inside it contained a golden yolk and this, in turn, opened to reveal a golden hen containing tiny jewels from the Imperial crown that unfortunately have been lost.
The Empress liked the gift so much that her husband decided to commission Fabergé to make a new egg every year, on one condition only: that the egg would contain a surprise inside (yes, like Kinder eggs for today’s children).
Those eggs commemorated important events in the life and reign of the Romanov family. They were so complicated to make that manufacturing them could take 1 year with a team of highly qualified craftsmen who had to keep the contents of the eggs as the biggest secret.
Alexander III gave his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna an egg each year. When Alexander III died the tradition was continued from 1895 by his son Nicholas II who presented an egg each year to both his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and his mother, Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna.
The tradition of imperial eggs ended in 1917 with the Russian Revolution and the assassination of the entire Romanov family.
After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks nationalized the House of Fabergé, and the Fabergé family fled to Switzerland, where Peter Carl Fabergé died in 1920. The palaces were looted and their treasures moved to the Kremlin Armory under the orders of Vladimir Lenin.
In an attempt to earn more foreign exchange, Joseph Stalin sold many of the eggs in 1927. Beginning at the time of World War II, they began to be auctioned in different locations outside the Soviet Union.
How many Fabergé eggs were made and where are they currently?
There is a catalog of 69 eggs, created between 1885 and 1917 (the year of the Russian Revolution), 8 of which are missing. Of the 69 eggs, 52 were commissioned by the imperial family, which is why they’re called imperial eggs.
Currently, there are 10 imperial eggs in the Kremlin Armory and 9 in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. 5 eggs are in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (United States). Incidentally, the Queen of England owns three of the imperial eggs. The rest are scattered in various museums and private collections.
In the twentieth century the price of Fabergé eggs began to rise astronomically. Some of the Fabergé eggs could be valued at 30 million euros a piece in today’s currency.
A few years ago one of these missing eggs turned up in the United States. A scrap dealer bought the egg at a flea market in a town in the American Midwest for $13,300, with the intention of getting good money by smelting the metal. Nobody bought the piece from him, thinking it was overvalued and the scrap dealer left the piece in his home for years, while thinking about what to do with it.
One day in 2012, he googled “egg” and “Vacheron Constantin” the name of the clock inside, and he ended up discovering that he had a masterpiece valued at 20 million pounds.
3. The Fabergé Museum
The privately owned Fabergé Museum was officially opened in the Shuvalov Palace on November 19, 2013 by the Link of Times Foundation, a cultural and historical organization created by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.
Malcolm Forbes, the billionaire and editor of Forbes magazine, managed to accumulate the largest collection of Fabergé eggs throughout his life (1919-1990): 9 eggs, and approximately 180 other Fabergé objects. His heirs were about to auction the collection in February 2004. However, before the auction began, the entire collection was purchased by Viktor Vekselberg.
In a 2013 BBC documentary, Vekselberg revealed that he had spent just over $100 million to buy the nine Fabergé eggs. He claims that he had never exhibited them at home, saying that he acquired them for their importance to Russian history and culture, and because he believes they are the best jewelry art in the world
In addition, he acquired Fabergé jewels from other owners and tracked pieces across Europe, Asia and America. In total, he bought more than 4,000 quality items, from the Fabergé House or other collections which belonged, originally and very often, to European royal courts.
The Shuvalov Palace, Headquarters of the Museum
The Fabergé Museum is located in the Shuvalov Palace, at a very central location (Fontana River Embankment, 21). It is located next to the most famous thoroughfare in St. Petersburg, Nevsky Avenue, very close to the Anichkov Bridge and on the bank of the Fontanka River (or rather Canal), across from the Russian National Library, which is the country’s second largest after the State Library in Moscow.
The nearest Metro station is Gostiny Dvor. Walking from there you will get to Nevsky Avenue in about 10 minutes. Other nearby Metro stations are Mayakovskaya or Ploshchad Vosstaniya, about 15 minutes on foot.
There are also buses (7, 24, 27 and 128) or the trolleybus, along Nevsky Avenue, which will take you to the museum.
The Fabergé Museum was located, as I said, in the Shuvalov Palace, an elegant neoclassical palace that was in a dilapidated state. The local government leased it to the Link of Times Foundation for 49 years.
In 2006, construction work began; a complete renovation of the building to turn it into a museum. Construction ended in 2013, the year of the official opening of the Fabergé Museum.
The truth is that the ticket price is paid off with just one visit to this superb palace.
It has an area of about 4,700 m2. The financial investment was very large, both to acquire the exquisite Fabergé collection, and to rehabilitate the Shuvalov Palace.
Regarding its history, it was originally built at the end of the 18th century in what were then the city limits. It had different owners linked to the St. Petersburg nobility. During World War I it was a hospital for the wounded, while in World War II, with the siege of Leningrad, it suffered great damage.
What to see at the Fabergé Museum
The ticket office is on the left as you enter. You have to leave your backpacks and coats at the entrance. The security measures are more than justified given the high value of the pieces on display.
Going up the Grand Staircase you will get to the upper floor where the museum’s collection is located.
Of the 4,000 pieces held by the museum, about 1,500 are from the Fabergé House, which makes the Fabergé Museum home to the finest collection of Fabergé works in the world. Most notable among these 1,500 pieces, are the 9 imperial and the 6 non-imperial eggs.
The entire collection can be seen in 10 showrooms located on the upper floor. Some of the rooms have names of colors and are striking for their shades: red, blue, gold, or white and blue.
The red room is dedicated to Russian silver, the gold room mostly to the gifts of the czars, while there are other spaces dedicated to porcelain, enamel, crockery and even painting, stone sculptures, cigarette cases or Russian icons.
But, the “jewel in the crown” is, without a doubt, the blue room, the one that displays the imperial Easter eggs, especially gifts from the csars to their wives and empresses, or their mother, Maria and Alexandra Feodorovna, each with its own history, name and features.
Some of the most important Easter eggs on display are:
- The first Hen Egg (1885), which I told you about before.
- The Resurrection Egg (1890). Made from rock crystal, it depicts Jesus coming out of the tomb. It is assumed that this was the lost surprise of the Renaissance Egg.
- The Renaissance Egg (1894). An Agate egg with jewels, including diamonds. It lies horizontally and the surprise it held inside was lost.
- The Rosebud Egg (1895). Neoclassical in style, it opens like a candy. Decorated with the symbols of love and the bonds of marriage.
- The Imperial Coronation Egg (1897). Made of gold with yellow translucent enamel. It holds the secret of the coronation carriage of Nicholas II and his wife.
- The Lilies of the Valley Egg (1898). In Art Nouveau style with Alexandra Feodorovna’s favorite flowers. It is topped with miniature portraits of the emperor and his two older daughters.
- Kelch Hen Egg (1900). Commissioned by billionaire Alexander Kelch for his wife Barbara. Ruby gold enamel with a band of sparkling diamonds. The main surprise is a beautiful hen.
- The Duchess of Marlborough Egg (1902). It is one of the biggest. Inspired by a Louis XVI watch with a rotating dial. It was commissioned by an American.
In this video on the Museum’s YouTube Channel you can better appreciate these masterpieces:
Incidentally, it must be pointed out that there is another Fabergé Museum located in Baden-Baden (Germany). It was officially opened in 2009 by Russian art collector, Alexander Ivanov, but it has only one imperial Easter egg, the Karelian Birch Egg, and the rest of the collection is neither as large nor as well-known as the one in St. Petersburg.
Opening Hours, Prices and Practical Information
The museum is open from Monday to Sunday 10:00am to 8:45 pm and can be toured in just over an hour. You can buy tickets at the ticket office (for the day you visit only) or online (afterwards you will have to redeem them at the same ticket office). It is not worth buying them online, since it is not a very crowded museum
- Admission costs 450 rubles. Free admission with the St. Petersburg CityPass.
- Audio guides (250 rubles) are available, as well as guided tours in English or Russian. You can also pay for a private tour in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian or Portuguese using the Get Your Guide platform.
On the ground floor the museum also has a small cafeteria where you can eat, as well as a gift shop.
After the visit you can get something to eat on Nevsky Avenue which has a variety of restaurants, sophisticated cuisine or fast food, both Russian and American. There is something for all tastes and budgets.
Another recommended option is to arrive at the Fabergé Museum on a boat cruise through the canals of St. Petersburg. There is even a landing or dock right there, that bears the name of the museum and was opened in 2016.
I hope you’ve found this article useful in organizing your visit to this small but very precious museum.