Easter eggs are well-known Russian memorabilia whose fame outside of this country is
probably second only to painted wooden matryoshka dolls. Lately, however, the
interest toward the Easter egg has been of a special nature. It is explained by
its somewhat illegal status during 70 years. Antique Easter eggs were stored
away in different museums, almost inaccessible to the public. It goes without
saying that in Soviet times the good tradition of giving and receiving
artistically painted Easter egg the bright holiday of Christ`s Resurrection
In the late 1980s
forgotten customs and rituals returned, including the old Russian tradition of
a triple kiss and the giving of an Easter egg. Easter eggs are exhibited in and
outside of Russia. In 1990, the first exhibition of Russian porcelain Easter
eggs from the National History Museum was displayed in Italy. After it,
exhibitions of eggs made by the Faberge firm for the Russian imperial family,
kept by museums of Moscow`s Kremlin and New York`s Malcolm Forbes Collection,
were shown in San Diego, California, and then in Moscow.
In 1992, as part of
the International Sergian Congress, honoring Sergius of Radonezh, an exhibition
of Easter eggs took place at the Central House of the Artist.
Recently, the famous
Winter Easter Egg by Faberge, which Emperor Nicholas II gave to his mother,
Empress Maria Fedorovna, for the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov, has
been sold for a sensational sum of $7.5 million at a Christie`s auction in
December of 1993 saw the creation in Moscow of the International Club ?«0vo-art? (from Latin ovo,
egg), which unites admirer, collectors, and artists. The club intends to revive
in Russia the tradition of making Easter eggs and everything that was connected
Easter eggs are an attribute of one of the most important
Christian holidays: the day of prayer for the ?“miraculous Resurrection?” of
crucified Jesus Christ.
According to a tradition, the first Easter egg Saint Mary
Magdalene coequal with the apostles gave to Roman Emperor Tiberius. Shortly
after Christ the Savior?’s Ascension, Mary Magdalene came to Rome to preach the
gospel. In those times, people coming to see the emperor were supposed to bring
him a present. Wealthy people used to bring jewelry, and poor people, what they
could afford. Therefore, Mary Magdalene, once a noble and rich woman, who then
lost everything, except her faith in Jesus, offered to Emperor Tiberius a
chicken egg and exclaimed: ?«Christ has resurrected!? The emperor, doubting her
words, noted that nobody could rise from the dead and that it was as hard to
believe in what she had said as in that a white egg might turn red. Tiberius
was still saying those words when the egg began changing its color and turned
scarlet. Thus, from the very first century of Christianity, colored eggs have
always been the symbol of Jesus` Resurrection and, with it, a purification in
the name of a new, better life to the believers in God the Son. The eggs` red
color has symbolized Christ`s blood and at the same time was the symbol of the
Resurrection. If a man keeps the sacred commandments, he communicates with the
expiatory virtues of the Savior and new life. ?«A believer, even if he dies,
will revive,? says Christ, ?«and I shall revive him.? Just like the life hidden
in an egg is born from it, the Son of God rose from the tomb and the dead will rise for eternal life.
By giving each other Easter eggs,
Christians profess the faith in their Resurrection. If Christ`s Resurrection
had not taken place, then, according to Apostle Paul, the new faith would not
have had a foundation or value, it would have been vain: not bringing salvation
nor saving us. But Christ resurrected, the first of all who had been born on
Earth, and by having done so he demonstrated his power and Divine blessing.
The egg is present in yet another legend about a miraculous resurrection. A poor trades?man in eggs was going to the
marketplace. On his way, he met Jesus carrying the cross. Putting aside his
load, the tradesman helped Him carry the cross. When the poor man returned to
his goods, he discovered that the eggs were no longer white but of various colors.
Why was it the egg, which became one of the
proofs of the Resurrection of the Son of God? In ancient times, the egg was
attributed a magic significance. Eggs?—both natural and made of different
materials, like marble, clay, etc.?—are found in graves, mounds, and at other
burial sites of the pre-Christian epoch.
Archeological excavations have unearthed
carved and natural ostrich and chicken eggs, some?times painted ones.
All world mythologies have legends treating
the egg as a symbol of life, renewal, as a source of origin of all that exists
in this world. Oriental cultures believed that there was a time when chaos
reigned everywhere, and that chaos was contained in an enormous egg hold?ing
all forms of life. Fire was warming its shell, giving the egg the warmth of
creation. It was owing to this divine fire that a mythical
creature?—Panu?—emerged from the egg. All things weightless became the Sky, and
all things dark became the Earth. As it grew, Panu became the Universe, united
the Sky and the Earth, and created the wind, space, clouds, thunder, and
lightning. To heat the newly born Earth, Panu gave it the Sun, and to remind it
about the cold, it gave it the Moon. Thanks to Panu, the Sun warmed the Earth,
the Moon shined, and planets and stars were born.
Since ancient times, the egg has been the
symbol of a transition from nonexistence to existence. It was perceived as
spring sun, bringing life, joy, warmth, light, rebirth of nature, and
liberation from the grip of frost, ice, and snow.
Once it was customary to give away an egg
as a simple, little offering to pagan gods, to give eggs to friends and
benefactors?—on the first day of the New Year and on birthday. Rich people,
instead of painted chicken eggs, often offered golden or gilded eggs, sym?bolizing
Ancient Romans had the custom of eating a
baked egg before a festive meal. That was symbolically linked to a successful
beginning of a new pursuit. John of Damascus, a Byzantine theologian and
philosopher, says that the sky and earth are in every way similar to the egg:
the shell corresponds to the sky; the membrane, to the clouds; the white, to
water; and the yolk, to earth. The lifeless matter of the egg produces life; it
contains the possibility, the idea, movement, and development. According to
traditions, the egg gives the force of life even to the dead; through it, they
feel the spirit of life and regain lost forces. There is a primeval belief that
thanks to the miraculous force of the egg it is possible to contact the dead,
as though temporarily returning to life. If you put the first painted egg you
receive on Easter on a tomb, the dead man will hear all the words addressed to
him, as though returning to life and to what makes a living person happy or sad.
The earliest recorded testimony about Holy Easter painted eggs is found in a
10th-centu?ry parchment manuscript kept in the Saint Anastasia Convent, close
to Salonika in Greece. At the end of the church rubric, after the Easter
prayers, the manuscript says that a prayer blessing eggs and cheese is also
read and that the father superior, kissing the brethren, gives them eggs and
says, ?«Christ has resurrected!? According to the manuscript ?«Nomocanon by
Photius? (13th century), the father superior even punishes the monk who fails
to eat a red egg on Easter, because such a monk resists apostolic traditions.
Thus, the practice of giving Easter eggs dates back to apostolic times, when
Mary Magdalene was the first to give the believers an example of this joyful
The celebration of
Easter in Russia was introduced in the late 10th century. Orthodox Easter is
observed on the first Sunday following the spring equinox and March full moon.
Easter in Russia
was accompanied by ceremonies that came from pagan times but now con?secrated
by the Light of Christ. They were the consecration of Easter cakes, the prepara?tion
of cheese mass, the painting of eggs, etc. On Easter an egg was put in a wheat
tub, and the grain was kept until spring to be sown.
with the time when spring comes. By this day, as a sign of blossom, boiled eggs
used to be painted in different colors from time immemorial. Once, these represented
the flowers of the Spring God, Yarila; they were laid out on green grass. The
greenery was grown this way: they took hemp tow and fiber, wrapped seeds into
them, watered them daily on a plate, and by Easter they would sprout grass. On
it, eggs were put; by the Great Day (as Easter is sometimes referred to in
Russia) various viands were prepared, the meaning of which was Spring, Warmth,
Fire, Life, and Love.
Easter in Russia,
according to Y.P. Mirolyubov, a student of the Russian popular tradition, has
always had a universal, comprehensive nature. The Great Day was a church
celebration, a ritual, human happiness, etc. Happiness on this day is
all-embracing; people are gladdened by everything: the warmth, the light, the
sky, the earth, the relatives, friends, strangers, and one`s own people. After
a long and hard winter, the snows melt, jolly springs run, the ground dries
rapidly, and the trees blossom. The holiday of Christ`s Resurrection is at the
same time the resurrection of nature, of a renewed life. Russian spring is
distinguished by an unusual ten?derness, warmth, and constancy, and Easter is
the Blessing of life itself?—because there is no death! It was vanquished by the
one who rose from the tomb on the Third Day.
Every nation has
its own holidays, but among them there is a principal one. In Russia, such has
for centuries been Holy Easter. The church celebration is indeed grandiose. The
church prepares itself step by step to the joy of Christ`s Resurrection. The
week preceding Easter follows an increasingly busy schedule of religious
tradition of giving and receiving painted eggs on Easter has existed in Russia
from time immemorial. Once, in the reign of Czar Alexis (1645-1676), some
37,000 eggs were pre?pared by Easter to be given out. Along with natural
(chicken, swan, goose, pigeon, and duck) painted eggs, there were carved and
painted wooden and bone ones. Naturally, the stan?dard for the size of the eggs
made of wood, bone, porcelain, glass, and stone was set by the size of natural
1664, Procopius Ivanov, herbal ornamental design artist of the Trinity-Sergius
Monastery, was summoned to Moscow to paint eggs. Two years later he brought to
the court 170 wood?en eggs painted over gold ?«in various colored paints in
beautiful herbal patterns.?
Petrov Masyukov, disciple of Sergey Rozhkov, a well-known icon painter, painted
chis?eled eggs over a double layer of gold. Bogdan Saltanov, royal icon painter
of Armenian extraction, gave Czar Alexis for Easter in 1675 an original gift:
?«three platters: one containing five goose eggs with gilded herbal designs,
another containing seven duck eggs decorated in various colors over gold, and
the third containing seven chicken eggs gilded lavishly; in addition, a mica
box with forty chicken eggs decorated in various colors over gold.? In 1677,
almost all the craftsmen of the Armory were busy making Easter presents for
Czar Fedor in the form of eggs. In 1680, Saltanov, who painted icons on
taffeta, that is, did painting on fabric with applique work for iconostases of
Kremlin churches, provided the court with 50 painted eggs. In February of 1690,
icon painter Basil Kuzmin, disciple of (Simon Ushakov, and Nicephorus Bavykin,
gratified royal icon painter, painted in ?«various colored paints? chiseled
wooden eggs made ?«in imitation of chicken, duck, and pigeon ones.? In 1694,
eggs were paint?ed by the sons of an outstanding painter of the Armory, Fcdor
Zubov: Ivan and Alexei, a future founder of the school of Russian historic
the 18th-19th centuries, artistically decorated Easter eggs become so
widespread among the various segments of the Russian population that from that
time it is possible to speak about Easter eggs as a peculiar type of popular
decorative applied art.
that time, both precious jewelry eggs and simple peasant pisanki
(painted eggs) and krashenki (dyed eggs) had become fairly traditional.
The look of jewelry Easter eggs was changing with time. The pisanki and krashcnki
of the peasants were less susceptible to styl?istic change.
applied arts of the 18th century acquired a qualitatively different nature
compared to the art of preceding centuries. It became distinctly secular; this
was connected in the first place with the economic, political, and cultural reforms
conducted by Peter the Great. Russia began its entry into the pan-European
artistic process. The development of the fine arts and the decorative applied
arts followed a single course.
1703, Peter the Great founds a city on the Neva, which in 1712 becomes the
capital of the Russian state. (Saint Petersburg becomes the center of the
economic, political, and cul?tural life of the country. The czar, who
permanently needs skillful artists and craftsmen, sum?mons the best ones from
Moscow Armory`s studios and workshops to St. Petersburg. An especially large
number of Moscow skilled craftsmen (gunsmiths, jewelers, engravers, and others)
was sent from the Kremlin to St. Petersburg under the czar`s edict in 1711. By
the late 1720`s, a little over a fourth of the original number of the various
craftsmen remained in the Armory. Thus the center of applied arts gradually
moved from the Kremlin`s artistic stu?dios to fit. Petersburg.
The Office of Buildings, having taken over from the
former Moscow Armory, became the leading agency in the new capital`s artistic
life. The nature of work in the Office of Buildings in the 18th century
remained the same that had existed in the Armory`s studios and work?shops,
where the painters, in addition to decorating churches and royal chambers, had
to make drawings of cities and drawings for engraving and to decorate banners.
At the dis?cretion of state grandees, the painters were to decorate fun books,
checkerboards, small boxes or cases for valuables, and, what particularly interests
us, Easter eggs. Moreover, they worked on grates, poles, tubes, stoves, and
other projects of applied nature.
eggs of that period failed to survive until our times. As far as we can judge,
they most probably were wooden eggs, gilded or silvered and decorated by
skillful painters, as well as chiseled bone eggs.
As a result of
Peter the Great`s reforms, materials new for Russia appeared?—porcelain, glass,
papier-mache?—and contributed to the development of the art of making Russian
porcelain Easter egg that came down to us was created for the 1749 Easter by
the inventor of the Russian porcelain, Dmitriy Vinogradov. After his discovery
of porce?lain in 1748, the production of ornamental eggs in Russia became an industry.
An entry in Vinogradov?’s diary for 1749 says, ?«We chiseled and molded eggs.?
From then until the 1917 revolution, the Imperial Porcelain Factory
manufactured Easter eggs. The earliest of them was the egg portraying Cupids,
apparently based on a drawing by Francois Boucher, believed to date back to the
1750`s and kept by the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. For every Easter
Sunday, the factory manufactured Easter eggs for the members of the imperial
family ?«to be handed out? at the time of congratulating each other on Easter
day. From the 1820`s, private porcelain factories also began manufacturing
Easter eggs. Artistic style hallmarks enable us to estimate the time when
samples ordered in a single copy for Easter holidays were made.
The decoration of
Easter eggs, especially porcelain and glass ones, which were the most numerous
throughout the 19th century, correlated with a particular trend in the fine
Starting from the
second half of the 19th century, the design of Easter eggs becomes more
peculiar, with the use of traditional religious Easter subject matters
(?«Descent into Hell,? ?«The Resurrection,? and others) and religious symbols and
attributes. In the scene ?«Descent into Hell,? Christ, surrounded by patriarchs
and prophets, stands, holding Adam by his right hand, over the door to hell,
which he has just broken. Traditionally, in the Russian Orthodox faith,
?«Descent into Hell? is considered a symbol of the Resurrection.
In 1874, ordered by
Moscow`s ?«dismissed-priests? Old Believers, the Tyulin brothers, renowned icon
painters from the village of Mstyora, near Vladimir, painted images on Easter
eggs to greet distinguished persons. The Tyulins by that time had earned a fame
through their restoration work on old icons in the temples of the Old
Believers` Rogozhskoye Cemetery in Moscow. The eggs were chiseled out of wood.
Each consisted of two halves, gilded on the inside with mat gold and painted
bright crimson on the outside. The egg was very light, extremely elegant, and
polished like a mirror. The Tyulins painted eggs of two sizes: ten the size of
a goose egg and eight the size of a duck egg. All the eggs bore on one side the
same subject matter?—?«The Savior`s Descent into Hell??—and on the opposite side,
the image of the patron saint of the person for whom the egg was meant as a pre?sent.
There were three eggs with (Saint Alexander of the Neva and one each with Czar
Constantine, Prince Vladimir, and Metropolitan Alexis. The middle, where the
egg opens, was adorned by the artists with an ornament. The images are
distinguished by the exactness of minute details; ancient Russian style norms
are observed; pure gold is used. The paintings on these Easter eggs were
rewarded by what was much money at that time: 25 rubles for every big egg and
15 rubles for every small rarity.
well-known icon painter from Mstyora, O.S. Chirikov, filled an order for a
series of pat?terns of ?«painting of saints for the 12 high holidays? for the
decoration of porcelain Easter eggs. The eggs
created on the basis of those patterns are considered some of the best
among those manufactured at the Imperial Porcelain Factory. They were also the
most expen?sive ones: to paint one such egg a painter spent 40 days, and it
cost 75 rubles. The num?ber of those eggs for every Easter holiday for the
imperial family was strictly definite: the emperor and the empress each
received 40-50 eggs, grand dukes each received three, and grand duchesses each
received two. In their painting, among others, participated A
.S. Kaminskiy, a Moscow architect, who
in 1890 met a special order to paint the reverses of porcelain eggs with the
?«painting of saints.? Porcelain eggs often were suspended under icon cases by a
ribbon, with a bow below and a loop above, passed through a hole in the egg. To
attach ribbons and make bows, they used to hire ?«bow makers,? needy widows or
daughters of for?mer employees. The rather handsome payment for their work was
considered Easter charita?ble assistance.
While in 1799 the
Imperial Porcelain Factory manufactured 254 eggs, in 1802 it produced 960. In
the early 1900`s the same factory employed approximately 30 persons, including
trainees, who were manufacturing 3.308 eggs annually. For the 1914 Easter, it
produced 3.991 porcelain eggs, and in 1916, 15.365.
of Easter eggs in Russia were produced by various small businesses and
sometimes acted as inspectors: thus, Alexander III recommended that eggs be
painted not only in colors but also in ornaments, and he liked glass samples of
one piece with engraved designs.
Well known are
late-19th-century Easter eggs made of papier-mache manufactured at N. Lukutin`s
factory near Moscow, now famous as Fedoskino Factory of lacquer miniature
painting. In addition to religious subject matters, Lukutin`s artists often
painted Orthodox cathedrals and temples on their Easter eggs. One of the
favored motifs of Lukutin`s artists was Saint Basil`s Cathedral on Red Square.
In the late
19th?—early 20th century Easter eggs were also painted in Moscow`s icon stu?dios
created by artists originally from Russia`s traditional icon-painting centers:
Palekh, Mstyora, and Kholuy. Well known is the egg from A.A. Glazunov`s studio
depicting a cockerel, which symbolized the sun.
In their letters
from Russia in the early 19th century, the Wilmot sisters from Ireland, who
were guests of Yekaterina K. Dashkova, famous educator, wrote about Russian
Easter. When Saturday church service ended, everyone started giving each other
Easter eggs, decorated, carved, painted in different colors. The sisters note
that Easter presents are a must, and Princess Dashkova gave to one of them, as
an ?«cgg,? two diamonds. When offering a gift, the Wilmot sisters note, the
giver says in Russian, Khristos voskrese! (Christ has resurrect?ed.) The
recipient answers, Voistinu voskrese. (He has resurrected indeed.)?
(Saying those words, the sisters continue, even a peasant has the right to kiss
the hand of any important person (even the emperor himself), and no one can be
From that we see
that the role of an ?«Easter egg? could be played by other gifts, name?ly,
One of the first
persons who tried to combine an Easter egg with a jewel was Carl Faberge. His
name is most frequently associated precisely with the brilliant art of the deco?rative
For known reasons
the decorative eggs of the Faberge firm have until recently been more widely
known outside of Russia.
The Faberge studios
created 56 Easter eggs for Russian Emperor Alexander III and Emperor Nicholas
II. Between 1885 and 1894 Alexander III presented his wife with ten Easter
eggs, and Nicholas II, from his father`s death in 1894 to 1917, presented the
Dowager Czarina, Maria Fedorovna, and his wife with 46 Easter eggs.
Twelve Easter eggs
were created for A.F. Kelch, owner of several gold mines in Siberia. Some
elegant and expensive Easter presents, often containing surprises, were also
made for Prince F.F. Yusupov and Duchess Marlboro. Those were Easter eggs with
complex winding mech?anisms; they were also wonders of jewelry art; the
creation of each one of them was very expensive. The samples were kept in
special cases or safes and were taken out for display only during Easter. At
present we know where only some of the Faberge rarity Easter eggs are found: twelve
items are in possession of the Queen of the United Kingdom, eleven are in the
Malcolm Forbes Collection, and ten, in the Armory of the Museums of the
The first Faberge
Easter egg was made in 1885 by Mikhail Perikhin. In 1886, at the age of 26, this
skilled craftsman from the Siberian town of Pctrovskiy Zavod became chief
foreman of the Faberge firm. Until 1903, when he died, his initials were put on
all surprise eggs of the firm made for Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II.
The first egg made by Perikhin con?sisted of an ivory ?«shell? with stripes of
dark blue enamel; in the ?«shell? there was a golden-with-enamel hen with ruby
eyes. Inside the hen, there was a golden crown inlaid with pearl. And inside
the crown there was a golden ring.
It was precisely in
1885 that the tradition of giving annually Fabcrgc Easter eggs was born. ?«Your
Majesty will be pleased,? this answer Faberge used to give when asked about the
sub?ject matter of a new egg.
The tradition of
making jewelry Easter eggs in Russia was old. For instance, skilled crafts?man
Nordberg made a silvered surprise egg for Alexander II. But it was the Faberge
firm which brought the art of making jewelry Easter eggs to an unsurpassed
level of skillfulness, elegance, and creative inventiveness. Faberge never
produced exact copies. All Faberge works bear the stamp of a single,
inimitable, individual style, which has entered the history of world art
forever. The Russian imperial dynasty and its numerous royal and princely
relatives in Britain, Denmark, Greece, Bulgaria, Hesse, and Hannover received
Faberge eggs as presents from Russia, highly prized those presents, and passed
them down to their heirs.
After the First
World War, the fall of monarchy in Russia, and the impoverishment of the
aristocracy, many Faberge articles were sold or passed to new owners. In the
1920s, to add hard currency to the treasury, the Soviet government sold a
number of works of art from state collections. From the imperial collections,
confiscated after 1917, a large portion of appar?ently ?«absolutely useless? for
Soviet society unique Easter eggs was sold.
in spite of the belligerent atheism of the postrevolution decades, the
tradition of celebrating Easter was passing from generation to generation?—it
was very deep-rooted in the Orthodox believers throughout Russia.
the making of present, artistic Easter eggs stopped, people continued
celebrating Easter with krashenki (those eggs dyed in one or several
colors which practically every Russian knows) and pisanki (painted with
ornaments). The tradition of making pisanki was strong in west?ern areas
of Ukraine. Their pisanki resemble pre-Christian style of drawing,
dating back to the times when the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians were
still one people?—a source of pan-Slavonic traditions. The ornaments of pisanki
can be either geometrical, floral, or zoomorphic. West Ukrainian pisanki
bear many symbols, typical of the ancient Slavs in their pagan period. The
symbols include triangles, stars, crosses, dots, spirals, rounds, swastikas,
stylized parts of and entire plants, cockerels, little horses, etc. Pisanki,
as a rule are found in rural areas. Every village has two or three painters. Pisanki
are painted for Easter, mainly for children`s fun. They are sold mainly in
cities. The ornamentation is done as follows: the egg is covered with wax with
the help of a narrow little pipe fastened to a stick. The little pipe is used
to outline the drawing. When the wax cools, the egg is put in a paint. Thus it
is painted entirely with the exception of the drawing`s outline, which remains
white. Then the portions of the egg which are intended to remain in the
original color are covered with wax, and the egg is put in a different paint.
And so they proceed several times. After that, they heat the egg and melt the
wax?—a pisanka (singular of pisanki) is ready. The paints normally
used are plant ones. Pisanki have two or more colors. There exists a
special ornamentation technique: a design is scratched by a pointed tool. Such
eggs are called skrobanki.
the city of Gorki,? wrote art historian M.A. Ilyin, ?«at a (Sunday bazaar (best
of all on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter Sunday) in kolkhoz markets you
will find real legions of remarkable examples of popular art. They will be wooden
painted eggs, boxes in the shape of mushrooms, children`s toys, and much
more?—all covered by strikingly bright chemically ani?line designs. They arc
paintings from the villages of Maydan and Krutcts. They have long spread far
beyond the limits of the city. They arc a genuine offspring of our people`s mod?ern
art, live, beautiful, and bright.?
all manufacturers of traditional painted wooden art works would make Easter
eggs as well. True, for a long time this was disapproved of by the officials. Therefore
the living art of the wooden Easter egg found refuge in backcountry villages
east of the Volga:
Maydan and Krutets. The lathe production of painted articles began in the early
1900`s. In 1914-1916 local handicraftsmen began decorating tararushki
(lathe articles: pencil cases, little boxes, and toys), following the example
of Sergiyev Posad artisans, with the help of pyrography and subsequent
painting. It was only in the 1920s that the Polkhovskiy Maydan painting evolved
into an individual style. It is done by individually applied paints: scarlet,
yel?low, and dark blue. When the paints mix, they result in red and green tones
within the bound?aries clearly marked in India ink. Plant ornaments are
combined with graphic elements: trees, a river, a sun, houses, and birds.
the samples are the size of a natural chicken egg. Sometimes, as an exception,
larger eggs arc made. The most frequently represented motifs and subject
matters are images of a cockerel or a pullet, a sun, a temple or a church, etc.
The egg painters of Krutets even in (Soviet times were not afraid to
write on their works ?«XB? (Russian letters standing for Khristos voskrese!
?«Christ Has Resurrected?), paint churches, and indicate otherwise that those
were Easter eggs.
Some believe that
the Polkhovskiy Maydan and Krutets painting style was brought there in the
early 1920 s by migrants from Ukraine. The naive peasant painting of these eggs
is simi?lar to the painting and ornamentation of Ukrainian pisanki. The
same pagan symbols are pre?sent on the eggs: the rooster, the hen, and the sun,
which is the symbol of revival. The size is close to that of a natural chicken
egg; the design principles are the same. Thus, we sec that the creations of the
new popular-art centers of Polkhovskiy Maydan and Krutets, which appeared in
the 20th century, closely combine the Christian and the pagan traditions.
Artel (workers` cooperative) in the village of Babenki, Podolsk district, south
of Moscow, used to make polished lathe articles of wood and bone, including
eggs. It was from there that both Moscow workshops of the Handicrafts Museum
and Sergiyev Posad hand?icraft artels obtained skilled turners.
The traditions of
skilled lathe work are maintained by the Suvenir enterprise in Sergiyev Posad,
which throughout the entire Soviet period manufactured souvenir eggs decorated
with painting and pyrography. In most cases these souvenir eggs, which can
consist of one, two, or three pieces, carry the images of architectural
monuments of the Trinity-Sergius Monastery.
Close to Sergiyev
Posad, another center of popular art is located: the city of Khotkovo. It is
known primarily for its carvers in wood and bone. It was there that the
distinctive Abramtsevo-Kudrino carving style was born at the turn of the
century, invented by a talent?ed peasant from the village of Kudrino, V.P.
Vornoskov. The Abramtsevo-Kudrino relief carv?ing, with oval contours and a
little sunken background, organically combines traditional popu?lar carving
methods with new ways of woodworking. Often the carvers use stain to achieve
various shades of colors, from golden ones to dark brown ones. After staining,
the articles are sometimes made shiny by polishing. Typical for this carving
style are plant motifs cover?ing fully the article, including the surface of an
On a par with the
Moscow region, which is known for the high technical and artistic quali?ty of
its lathe woodworks, fame has also been earned by the Nizhni Novgorod area,
where one of the first places is held by legendary Khokhloma. The art of making
Easter eggs was apparently known there from time immemorial.
uses two types of ornaments: overlay painting and painting to fit the
background. Overlay painting is done by paintbrush strokes over the surface of
the back?ground, creating a light, lacy pattern. The golden background shines
through the plant orna?ment with flowers, blades of grass, and berries. The
painting to fit the background has a golden silhouette drawing surrounded by a
black or colored background. This old industry has existed since the 16th
century. That is why the designs of Khokhloma ornaments contain many elements
going back to the ornament of Ancient Rus. The Khokhloma Easter egg creat?ed by
Y. Dospalova, chief painter of the association Khokhlomskaya Rospis (Khokhloma
Painting), is so perfect that one cannot help recalling the legend about a
golden egg. The golden egg was what most peoples used to give as a present in
both pagan and Christian times. Every Russian knows from childhood the popular
fairy tale about the Spotted Pullet, which laid an egg for Grandpa and Grandma,
not a simple one, but a golden one.
While in popular
artistic centers of woodworking the art of making lathe ornamented eggs
survived even in the Soviet period, in the traditional centers of lacquer
miniature painting on papier-mache it appeared only in post-Soviet times, after
a long interval of oblivion. Among the first to return to the painting of
Easter eggs were the miniaturists of Mstyora, under?standing their
ornamentation in a purely religious sense. With the tradition of painting
Easter eggs begun by the Tyulin brothers and 0. Chirikov standing before them
as an example, mod?ern Mstyora handicraftsmen meritoriously continued their
tradition. At the various exhibitions held in Novgorod to commemorate 1,000
years of Christianity in Russia, religious personali?ties noted that, of all
the centers of tempera miniature painting on papier-mache, Mstyora was the one,
which preserved the most the traditions of ancient Russian painting.
As before the 1917
revolution, Easter eggs with lacquer miniature painting of the tradition?al
centers of Fedoskino, Palekh, Mstyora, and Kholuy are made to order and are
fairly expen?sive. Usually, Easter eggs in those centers are painted only by
experienced, highly skilled professionals. The painting of an Easter egg
requires good knowledge of iconography.
Those centers had
more than just icon-painting studios. Ancient Russian art was an art of
synthesis, uniting icon painters, chasers of framings, enamel and filigree
makers, gold embroi?dery makers, etc.
Today Easter eggs?’
painting is reviving not only at the Center of Mstyora Lacquer Miniature
Painting but also at the enterprise Mstyorsky Yuvelir (Mstyora Jeweler).
There they manu?facture a series of eggs adorned with openwork twine made on
the basis of geometrical plant ornaments.
The art of
Kholmogory handicraftsmen is known from time immemorial. Czar Alexis in the
17th century used to invite them to his court to make bone articles; in the
18th century they were brought to the new capital city of St. Petersburg, where
they created works of art unsur?passed in their handicraft. The creations of
Kholmogory handicraftsmen are particularly smart and solemn; they are distinguished
by high artistry, significative of peculiar artistic traditions of this center
in the village of Lomonosovo in Kholmogory district. Today, Kholmogory artisans
create Easter eggs unique in their method of making. The work of S. Minin is an
openwork case made of a single piece of mammoth ivory whose base is an opening
gilded silver egg. When necessary, it can easily be turned into two small
liquor glasses of equal size. This labo?rious jewelry work took more than half
a year to do; one wrong movement, and the open?work mammoth ivory case could
fall to pieces.
Probably the most
ancient of all existing Easter eggs from various materials arc the eggs from
semiprecious and precious stones and minerals.
are divided into hard, medium-hard, and soft ones. The hard stones include
jasper, agate, malachite, nephrite, azurite, jade, and others. The group of
medium-hard stones includes marble, porphyry, onyx, and others. The soft stones
include selenite, calcite, serpentine, and others. Easter eggs have been and
still are made of semiprecious stones of different groups.
manufacturing porcelain, delft, and majolica articles prefer mass pro?duction
of eggs. These artistic enterprises approach the decoration of Easter eggs in a
fair?ly traditional way. The Easter eggs manufactured by the Gzhel Company?—made
of porcelain with cobalt and majolica with polychrome painting?—are widely known
from prc-rcvolutionary times. They continue the classic tradition of Easter
eggs painting of the M.S. Kuznctsov Company porcelain factories. Flower
compositions and those depicting Orthodox temples arc the most widespread.
Gzhel Easter eggs can be of various sizes. Rechitsy Porcelain Factory, located
close to the village of Gzhel, has recently started producing Easter eggs with
Lately in Moscow
there began to appear artistic enterprises manufacturing small quantities of
ceramic articles. One of them is Nikand, with its samples of porcelain with
cobalt painting. Most of Nikand`s porcelain eggs arc individual authors` works.
Thus, Easter eggs arc painted by S.R. Kern.
Predominant are Christian motifs, as well as architectural landscapes.
professionalism of artists and craftsmen is also typical of another Moscow
porcelain enterprise, Daki, born in 1992. Together with cobalt painting of
porcelain articles, this compa?ny has started producing biscuit, that is,
porcelain without glazing, decorated with molding and painting. Easter eggs at
Daki are normally manufactured in single copies, made to order.
Well known are the
eggs of porcelain with molding produced by the Feniks company in the city of
Kislovodsk and delft eggs with painting made by the Aksinya enterprise
in Semikarakorsk, both in southern Russia. The decoration of Easter eggs at these
porcelain enterprises sticks to its own artistic style.
centers of popular art are going through a process of breaking up into smaller
units. They spawn small workshops and studios, which are faster to meet the
need^ of modern society. Such is the Sakva firm, which has appeared in the
village of Mstyora. There you can order an Easter egg, which will be made by a
Peculiar motifs are
present in the painted eggs of the popular art production company Vyatskiy
Suvenir (Vyatka Memorabilia). This center has traditionally worked with
straw inlay, but it also produces eggs with paintings on religious
subjects, in particular ?«Christmas.?
similar tendency of using Christmas motifs in decorating samples is found in
the Association of Arts and Crafts of Saint Petersburg and Leningradskaya
Oblast. Apparently, this is an influence of the West European civilization, for
which Christmas is the most significant religious holiday. There is a German
proverb about this: ?«No nest is higher than that of the eagle; no holiday is
higher than Christmas.?
One more phenomenon
in the modern art of decorating the Easter egg is linked to artistic traditions
of prerevolutionary St. Petersburg: the creation by St. Petersburg handicrafts
men of Easter eggs following Faberge patterns. Standing out among them are
miniature pendants featuring both Christian and pagan symbols. Openwork
pendants are an exact copy o the openwork beads on the small shoulder mantle
worn by ancient czars the day of their coronation found in the Ryazan treasure,
dating back to pre-Mongol Rus.
The first attempts
to imitate the Faberge style were made in the early 1980s. One of the
initiators of reviving the traditions of the famous jewelry firm was Andrei
Ananov. After Mr. Ananov had given a locket in the form of an Easter egg to a
Faberge representative, the Cartier Company gave its opinion about its quality.
A contract was signed with Mr. Ananov and a special stamp was worked out:
?«Faberge by Ananov.? Mr. Ananov had refused to simply stamp his works
?«Faberge.? Eggs by Ananov`s firm are owned by Monserrat Caballc, Placido
Domingo, and former first ladies Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.
Modern Easter eggs
by individual authors are an original phenomenon in the Russian artistic
culture of the late 20th century. They are fruits of living, free artistic
Easter eggs by individual authors can be divided into several motif groups:
religious, architectural landscape, simple landscape, literature (Russian epic
poems, Russian popular fairy tales, works by Russian writes), pagan motifs,
symbolic, etc. Such a diversity mean that the art of the modern Russian Easter
egg is developing in various directions. It is note worthy that some
professional artists who a short time ago began painting matryoshka dolls,
switched tree or four years later to Easter eggs, and then took up icon
painting. Thus, it is possible to say that the evolutionary road, which, in the
opinion of the Russian theologian, philosopher, and scholar, Rev. Pavel Florenkiy,
has led from the decorated Egyptian sar?cophagus through the Al Fayyam portrait
to the icon, has been retraced.
poet Marina Tsvetayeva once said that all gifts are given to the ignorant and
the ungrateful, except the gift of the soul, which is nothing but conscience
and memory. The best examples of Easter eggs with religious images are charged
with such energy and impact so strongly that they really can rouse historic
memory and illuminate our souls.
The art of Easter eggs is a whole new world, a feature in the living image of Russia.
Ornamental eggs 1960-1970 s Knitcts, Nizhni Novgorod
Oblast Wood, painting Private collection, Moscow