Fabergé Isn't the Only Crown Jeweler in Jewels from Imperial St. Petersburg

Fabergé. Only one name it seems is synonymous with Russia's royal jewelry, but in fact, there is a fascinating range of jewelers and craftsmen of objets d'art whose techniques and handiwork shaped ornamental design during the golden age.




Fabergé. Only one name it seems is synonymous with Russia's royal jewelry, but in fact, there is a fascinating range of jewelers and craftsmen of objets d'art whose techniques and handiwork shaped ornamental design during the golden age of Russia's Imperial court.  Jewels from Imperial St. Petersburg (Ulla Tillander-Godenheilm, Unicorn Press) is actually written by the great granddaughter of Alexander Tillander, the leading goldsmith to the Imperial Russian Court.


Twists and turns in the multifaceted world of Imperial Russia unfold as the author takes the reader through historical vignettes of Russian royals and their love of baubles as a status and decoration. The book begins in the early 1700's after the city of St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great. The city was an immediate magnet for gold and silversmiths who arrived from Western Europe and the Nordic countries to set up shop and form guilds. The St. Petersburg goldsmith’s guild took care of the master craftsmen who created jewels, luxury goods and objets d'art like snuffboxes, pillboxes, decorative-picture frames, minaudieres and jeweled walking sticks.  

After a tenure of male rulers, though, the ladies stepped in and from 1725 to 1796, Russian was ruled with a feminine touch by Catherine I, Anna Ioannovna, Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine II. The guilds flourished under their influence.

It was during the reign of Catherine II (1762-1796) that Russian Imperial jewelry hit its apogee.  Opulent jewels, stately court dress, collecting and parties were Catherine II's way to define her court. She was always dressed in gala attire and her skirts were strewn with diamond flowers while her hair was coiffed with a glittering aigrette (brooch).

After the demise of France's Sun King, Louis XIV, Russia had no trouble stepping up to the plate a century later to become the most sumptuous court in Europe. Within the pages of the book are actual lists of the prodigious jewelry dowries and personal collections of many of the royal family members, especially the princesses and duchesses.  

Once Alexander I came to the throne (1801-1825), Napoleon's empire style took hold. Paris still had a huge influence on trends in fashion, lifestyle and jewelry. Hair ornaments, lavishly decorated belts and buckles, which were worn with the women's Empire style high waist dresses of the day, were very popular.  

By the time Nicholas I came to power (1825-1855), a more Germanic style emerged, known as Beidermeier, stemming from the Kingdom of Prussia where the empress was born. Jewelers borrowed their motifs from Gothic architecture and their colorations from Byzantine art as the infatuation with the Middle Ages and the Orient grew.  Even Arabian motifs found their way into jewelry design. Often jewelry had secret compartments to hide a lover's lock of hair or a lover's monogram highlighting the age of Romanticism.


 

By the time the author reaches the workshops of Fabergé in the early 20th century, we see extraordinary pieces of jewelry that mimic ice, including a magnificent Winter Egg that was produced in 1913 as a gift from Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maris Feodorovna.  The egg is made with rock crystal, diamonds, moonstone, Siberian quartz and platinum.  Inside the egg is a gorgeous mini bouquet of white wood anemones. This superb rendering of a melting lump of ice is a Fabergé tour de force is a metaphor for the talent and realism that jewelry can portray.

The book is available at select retailers through http://www.accdistribution.com/us/

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