Treasures of the World
© Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
◦ Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
◦ Nicholas and Romanov Russia
◦ Nicholas and Alexandra
◦ The tragic events that followed the coronation of Nicholas II
◦ Bloody Sunday
◦ Signs of revolution
◦ The inventive young Faberge
◦ Faberge's growing fame
◦ The Faberge Imperial Easter eggs featured in the Series
◦ The House of Faberge
◦ The workshops and workmasters
◦ Faberge the man
◦ Outrageous opulence
◦ Fragile remembrances
◦ The fate of the eggs ◦
Signs of revolution
When World War I broke out in 1914, the
trouble that had loomed at the edge of the Romanov's awareness began
to penetrate the protective shell of imperial privilege. In response
to the suffering of their people, and in an attempt to present an image
of patriotism and concerned involvement, Alexandra enrolled herself
and her older daughters in nurses' training and had the palaces converted
into provisional hospitals to care for the increasing number of wounded.
Meanwhile, the Czar spent more and more time at the front with his
armies. Alexandra wrote daily to her husband:
20 November 1914. "This morning we were present (I help as
always giving the instruments and Olga threaded the needles) at our
first big amputation. Whole leg was cut off. I washed and cleaned and
bandaged all up."
25 November 1915. "During an operation a soldier died. Olga
and Tatiana behaved well; none lost their heads and the girls were brave.
They had never seen death. But he died in a minute. How near death always
Even as she ministered to the wounded and dying, they distrusted her.
She wanted to be seen as a Sister of Mercy Ц the nun-like dress and
cross she wore made her look like a martyr, an image she thought would
endear her to the Russian people. But mostly they were shocked, and
thought she looked ridiculous. They resented her presence there and
were embarrassed by her ministrations. They could not have loved her
At that time, there was great hope that Russia would yet prevail in
the war, and Faberge was asked to continue the tradition of Imperial
Easter eggs. But to match the solemn mood of the nation and reflect
the noble efforts of the family, Faberge wisely altered the tone of
the Easter gifts that year. Inside the Red Cross egg (1915) given to
the Dowager Empress Maria, are portraits of the Romanov women dressed
as Sisters of Mercy. Inscribed inside are the words, "Greater Love
hath no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends."
In 1915, the Czar appointed himself "Supreme Commander of the
Army," displacing one of the top generals. For this act, he was
awarded the Order of St. George, given for outstanding military bravery
or achievement. "Nicholas had decided to take over from his cousin,
Grand Duke Nicholas Nikoliovich, this tall giant of a man, beloved by
his soldiers, who had been at the head of the armies. And this was maybe,
for the Czar, the high point of his reign," says author and Faberge
expert, Geza von Habsburg. "He could do no wrong at that time,
and the war went very favorably at first for Russia."
Believing as many did that now the Czar would overcome the difficulties,
Faberge designed two eggs to applaud the event. For the Czarina, he
painted an image of Nicholas consulting with his officers at the front.
Resting on the points of four miniature artillery shells, the Steel
Military egg (1916) makes up in sober significance what it lacks in
ornamentation. According to Von Habsburg: "Faberge had to close
down his workshops because his craftsman were all at the front. He was
unable to continue to make these objects of art. He had no more precious
materials. Gold and silver were no longer allowed to be handled by jewelers
at that time so it was steel and brass and copper that they were using.
And the imperial family could also not be seen ordering expensive things
from Faberge at a time when Russia was bleeding to death."
The simple Order of St. George egg (1916), given to the Dowager Empress
Maria that year, was another gesture to wartime austerity. Away from
St. Petersburg supervising Red Cross activities in the south, she wrote
to her son: "I thank you with all my heart for your lovely
Egg, which dear old Faberge brought himself. It is beautiful. I wish
you, my darling Nickya, all the best things and success in everything.
Your fondly loving old Mama."
But Nicholas was not successful at leading his armies. "His taking
over the army was not well received," says Faberge expert Christopher
Forbes. "His second cousin was a more capable general, and for
the Czar to be so directly involved with the army, when that wasn't
necessarily his forte, didn't go down well with the officers."
From the front, Nicholas wrote home to his wife:
31 August 1915. "My beloved Sunny, how grateful I am to you
for your dear letters! In my loneliness they are my only consolation.
Much gravity lies in the terribly weak condition of our regiments, which
consist of less than a quarter of their normal strength; it is impossible
to reinforce them in less than a month, as the new recruits will not
be ready and there are few rifles."
Russian manpower was virtually inexhaustible, but the Czar's army was
untrained. Arms factories were few and unproductive, and the railway
lacked the capacity to carry enough supplies or even food to the soldiers
at the front. In the first five months of the war, Russia lost over
one million men Ц killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
By March of 1917, demonstrations, riots and strikes were commonplace
in the major cities of Russia, and the Imperial troops could no longer
suppress them. Alexandra wrote to Nicholas about the chaos, but he was
too far away to realize how bad the situation had become. When he did,
it was too late, and he was forced to abdicate.