From dazzling early renderings of Christian icons, to dramatic 19th century history paintings, to major works of turn of the century modernism, the scope of Russian art spans wide and far, reflecting a past and identity that has been marked by remarkable wealth and opulence as well as significant turmoil. While Russian art is as diverse and multifaceted as that of any other country, one of the categories they are most well known for is Faberge. Famous for their magnificently detailed and intricate works of art for Russian royalty, it is a name that continues to be recognized worldwide even today.
When Russia converted from a paganist to a Christian country in 988, artists of the region quickly embraced and became known for their mastery of renderings of religious icons. These depictions of figures such as Jesus Christ, The Virgin Mary, angels, various Christian saints, and major events such as the birth and ascension of Christ featured stylized portraits involving flattened perspective often painted on small wooden surfaces. Such images were greatly significant in what we now perceive medieval and early religious artwork to represent.
Leading up to and coinciding with the Enlightenment Era of the 18th century, there was a movement in Russian art from subjects of Christianity to more secular topics. Tsar Peter the Great, who lived between 1672 and 1725, pushed for the westernization of Russia, seeking to follow after and integrate with the culture of Europe. As a result Russian artists were encouraged to emulate the style of Neoclassicism which was all the rage in Europe, which stressed the importance of realistic yet dramatic renderings of historical, Biblical, and classical subjects.
By the 19th century, many painters were growing bored with the strict guidelines and repetitive motifs of painting in the neoclassical academic style, and movements emerged that strayed into the areas of depicting uniquely Russian subjects such as nature and historical Russian events. This group of artists was known as the Peredvizhniki, or the Wanderers.
In 1842, one of Russia’s most widely renowned contributors to the greatest of European artwork was established - The House of Faberge. Starting out as a jewelry firm in a basement shop of Saint Petersburg, it was founded by Gustav Faberge, a German immigrant from Livonia, or present-day Estonia. It was almost immediately a successful enterprise, and he was able to send his son to the prestigious Gymnasium of St. Anne’s for his education.
"The design of each egg centered around a surprise inside, from a decorative yolk encasing an imperial crown to miniature paintings, to a replica of a Russian Navy cruiser, and much more. "
In 1882, Gustav’s son Carl Faberge took over the business. In 1885, Faberge works were displayed at the Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow, where replicas of historical artifacts were exhibited. Tsar Alexander III is reported to have said that he could not distinguish the replica from the original, and ordered that Faberge pieces be displayed at the Hermitage Museum as examples of Russian contemporary craftsmanship. Later that year, the Tsar commissioned the first Faberge Imperial egg as gift for his wife in celebration of Easter. This became a tradition for the Tsar to commission a Faberge egg for his wife every year, and from 1887 and onward, Carl Faberge was given creative freedom in his conception for the pieces. The design of each egg centered around a surprise inside, from a decorative yolk encasing an imperial crown to miniature paintings, to a replica of a Russian Navy cruiser, and much more. The eggs were famously elaborate and inventive, with 50 in total being made, and today being valued well into the tens of millions.
Russia has produced endless works of art that remain in the visual culture of our modern world up until this day. The versatility, diversity, and elegance of Russian artwork is such that there is surely a category to interest anyone. Whether it is the iconic religious figures of the medieval era that are so easily recognized today, to outstanding examples of European academic paintings, the remarkable inventiveness of Faberge eggs, or any of the many other options, it easy to see how one is susceptible to entrancement by the subject. Russia’s place of significance in the history of the development of artwork of the world is undeniable, and its influence will likely continue to endure for generations to come.