The Museum of Russian Art

Museum of Russian Art masthead




Earlier this summer I visited Minneapolis to see the Museum of Russian Art and their fabulous exhibition of porcelain Easter Eggs, which runs through September 20, 2015, sponsored by the Bentson Foundation.  Drawn from the collection of Imperial porcelain owned by Raymond Piper, the exhibition includes seventy presentation Easter eggs featuring Russian orthodox saints, traditional Russian geometric patterns, and ornate floral designs.  The Easter eggs were produced at the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Commissioned by the Romanov Imperial family, porcelain eggs were a traditional presentation gift to relatives, friends and courtiers at Easter time.

The presentation of porcelain eggs explores the popular tradition of exchanging painted eggs at Eastertide, focusing on the upper social strata of pre-revolutionary Romanov dynasty.  The Russian tsars commissioned their porcelain Easter gifts from the Imperial Porcelain, established in 1744, expressly catering to the needs of the Imperial family.  Finely painted Easter eggs were presented to those in attendance at the Imperial court following a solemn Easter service.


Alexander I

Alexander I 1801-1825

1802 brought a stellar year for the Imperial Porcelain as they produced 960 eggs for the Easter festivities of Alexander’s court. The oldest of Tsar Paul I’s ten children and raised in a like manner by a doting grandmother, Catherine the Great, calling home the magnificent palace at Tsarskoe Selo.  Following the tradition of his ancestors Tsarinas Catherine and Elizabeth, Alexander was a devoted patron of this porcelain. The first egg produced by Imperial in the course of 1749 was under the rule of Elizabeth, a tradition carried on by Paul as the Factory produced 254 eggs for Easter 1799.

Alexander I collection


Nicholas I

Nicholas I 1825-1855

Imperial Porcelain prospered during the reign of Nicholas I.  Mid-nineteenth century saw the factory begin importing fine clays from Limoges, France, thus improving the quality of porcelain wares significantly.  The Factory received awards at international expositions of London, Paris, and Vienna.  Their talented artists decorated Easter eggs with miniature reproductions of European masters by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Titian, inspired by the Hermitage collection. Remarkably, the Hermitage was opened to the public in 1852, correspondingly this influence on the Arts in all their forms can be seen immediately.  A limited number of eggs were produced in this meticulous fashion each Easter, exclusively for the needs of the Tsar and his family.  One of the eggs on display features a copy of Ludovico Carracci’s painting Christ Bearing the Cross from the Hermitage.


Collection 2Collection


Alexander II

Alexander II 1855-1881

The Imperial Porcelain Factory downscaled operations under Alexander II.  In spite of the decline, Easter gifts continued to be successful at the Imperial court.  New elements of design were popularized featuring images drawn from the natural world, incorporating a wide variety of plants, birds and insects. Designed by August Karl Spiess, (1817-1904) the head of the Imperial’s sculpture workshop, this styling reflects the influence of the distinctive two-colored relief of Wedgewood English pottery.  Madonna and Child, on the larger egg, is based on Raphael’s painting ‘Sistine Madonna’


Alexander II CollectionAlexander II


Alexander III

Alexander III 1881-1894

Producing wares for Alexander III, the Imperial Porcelain Factory began a return to prosperity.  One of the Tsar’s early decrees states, ‘His Lordship, the Emperor wills that upon the Imperial Porcelain Factory shall be bestowed every advantage, relevant to its technical and artistic needs, so that I may justly be called Imperial and serve as a model  to all private manufacturers.’  Whereas, fewer Easter eggs were produced as part of the Tsar’s effort to cut Imperial household spending.  Alexander’s order of 1887 states, “For his Lordship the emperor, twenty eggs with the images of saints and fifty regular eggs, decorated and large-sized for Her Ladyship, the Empress, only fifty large eggs with various patterns.”


Alexander III


Nicholas II

Nicolas II 1894-1917

After the Easter service of 1896 in the Winter Palace, Nicholas II wrote in his diary, “We went to bed around 4 am, at sunrise.  At 11:30 am, the Easter greetings and exchange of kisses began in the Malachite room. Almost five hundred guests received eggs.”

The production of porcelain Easter eggs increased during the reign of Nicholas II. Introducing eggs with the monograms of the Imperial children, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchesses. Easter of 1914 saw the Imperial Porcelain Factory produce 3,991 eggs.  In 1916, in the midst of WWI, 15,365 eggs were produced, two thousand bearing the symbol of the Red Cross. To that end, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her five children visited hospitals presenting eggs to wounded soldiers and officers.

From that view, 1916 brought the Russian Empire its last celebrated Easter, as the following year the former Imperial family found themselves under house arrest in the Alexander Palace.  The few attending guests received Easter porcelain eggs “from old supplies,” as Nicholas’ diary stated.


Nicholas II 2

Nicholas II 1

Tucked near the end of the exhibition, the Museum of Russian Art shares a tiny piece of their archive.  The front page from the Illustrated London News, Easter weekend edition, April 14, 1914; displaying the chaos following the end of tsarist rule.  In consideration of that moment in time, the frivolity of porcelain eggs becomes a questionable extravagance in a dynasty trapped by pomp and circumstance.  The photograph at the top shows the Russian Duma, with an empty frame that once displayed a portrait of their tsar.  Likewise, the image underneath portrays a crowd burning the spoils of the old regime.

Final Cut

These beautiful eggs are drawn from the collections of Raymond Piper, renowned porcelain collector, whose intimate, moreover, wide ranging exhibition includes eighty nine porcelain Easter eggs dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.  The organizers should be commended not only for assembling a superb group of works of art; it is important to realize the wisdom of their decisions on matters such as lighting and wall color; allowing the intended dramatic effect of colors and images on the viewer.  An exquisite collection of Soviet era art and Tsarist Russia influences.

 My next Museum will be the Minneapolis Institute of Art, including some Frank Lloyd Wright pieces

Cheers to all!



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Renaissance Rock Star

Albrecht Dürer

Renaissance Rock Star,_Munich%29
Self Portrait at 26


Abrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was the dominant artist of the Northern Renaissance.  Possessed with ambitious determination, sophisticated imagination, and a probing intellect making him the Bavarian equal of Leonardo da Vinci.  Dürer’s prodigious output can be seen in collections around the world, showcasing his influence and innovation in woodcuts and engravings. An artist with the rock star image, he transformed the woodcut medium from primitive folk renderings to the finest of art.  If this artist was personally vain, just take a look at these self-portraits, you can’t blame him.


The finest collection of Dürer’s graphic art resides in Albertina in Vienna.   The collection represents the full range of his subject matter, from detailed renderings of the natural world and investigations of proportions to portraits, landscapes and religious and allegorical themes, providing a comprehensive timeline of artistic development and creative genius.


Albrecht, born in Nuremberg, 1471, was the son of a goldsmith and after some basic schooling was expected to join the family trade.  Nevertheless, the youngster demonstrated that he was meant for larger things; just take a look at that teenage self-portrait; Dürer followed the standard bourgeois-artist route studying painting, developing a lucrative sideline in printmaking, guaranteed to make money.  He traveled to Basel and Colmar studying art and technique, returning to Nuremberg in 1494 to marry Agnes Frey, daughter of a local burgher.



St Michael fighting the Dragon, 1498


Works of art imported from Renaissance Italy intrigued Dürer, specifically the new emphasis on the nude human figure and subjects from classical antiquity.  The fall of 1494 found the artist traveling to Venice, the artistic and trading capital of the era.  There, he studied Renaissance art firsthand, including antiquities that adorned public spaces.  He returned home to Nuremberg by the spring of 1496, introducing a greater sense of artistic dimension to his figures. His process of adapting classical motifs to Gothic convention with twisted strenuous grace take the viewer by surprise; and once you start looking at the details, down the rabbit hole you go; that being the power of Dürer’s art.


Hare, Durer 1502

The artist took up print making actively after his Venetian trip, and this change of professional development was pivotal.  Wide dissemination of his prints coupled with prodigious output brought success at home and abroad.   The revolutionary woodcut series on the Apocalypse printed in 1498, shows fifteen terrifying images illustrating the text of the Book of Revelation, these include depictions of the Whore of Babylon riding the seven headed beast described in the scripture.




Dürer started using his initials to sign his work in the 1490s.  The monogram used on most of his drawings and paintings was prominently incorporated into his prints.  Dürer’s monograms was so esteemed that he had to bring suit to stop others from using it.  It was, in essence, an artistic trademark, granted protection by the Nuremberg town council against piracy.  The Bolognese engraver Marcantonio Raimondi took a fancy to the work of Dürer.  As recounted by Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century writer on art, Dürer was so incensed by Raimondi’s copies of his “Life of the Virgin” series in 20 woodcuts (circa 1504-5) that he sued and succeeded in keeping him from using Dürer’s insignia.


durer cupid


Dürer’s interest in the nude predated his first trip to Italy, but his exposure there to classical art and Italian Renaissance painting intensified his quest for perfection in the representation of the human body.  After readying Vitruvius, the first-century BC architect whose writing on human proportions also influenced Leonardo, Dürer attempted to develop his own system.  His quest culminated in his engraving of Adam and Eve, a portrayal of the biblical couple the moment before they eat the apple offered by the serpent, only to be expelled from the Garden of Eden.  By 1504 Dürer was a master of the engraving technique, and this print especially demonstrated his unparalleled ability to depict light and shade as well as an astonishing variety of surfaces and textures.

Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75) *engraving  *24 x 18.8 cm *1514

Melencolia, 1514



Self-Portrait, Age 28, 1500


Dürer’s Adam and Eve are presented as the ideal man and women, yet the artist’s search for perfection in the human figure continued to occupy him for the rest of his life.  Eventually he changed from looking for a single model for the male or female body to considering a variety of ideal types. This led to Four Books on Human Proportions, a theoretical and illustrated treatise published the year of his death, 1528.


The Flight into Egypt, 1504

The Flight into Egypt, 1504




The Albertina

The Albertina is the premiere depository of Dürer’s graphic art.  The museum originated in the collection of Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen (1738-1822), who married into the Hapsburg Dynasty and settled in Vienna.  The duke focused on collecting European works on paper.  In 1796, his already distinguished collection expanded with the acquisition of drawings by Dürer belonging to the imperial family.  These had been assembled two centuries earlier by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), who spared no expense in his search for works by his favorite artist, both in Nuremberg and abroad.  He had many to choose from; Dürer cared deeply about his artistic legacy and preserved an astonishing number of drawings; most never left his studio during his lifetime and were passed down to family members or friends after his death.

An Elderly Man of Ninety Three Years, Durer, 1521

An Elderly Man of Ninety Three Years, Durer, 1521


The Great Turf, 1503

The Great Turf, 1503

The Great Triumphal Cart, 1523

The Great Triumphal Cart, 1523


Albrecht Dürer is one of my favorite artists, his work can be found in a majority of museums with Renaissance prints, I enjoyed putting together this synopsis on the life of one of the great artists.   I am collecting for a new Cabinet of Curiosities and visiting some new museums in the coming days . .



Wikipedia has an enormous selection of paintings, woodcuts and engravings .

The Royal Collection has the complete page of the Emperor’s Carriage and Triumphal Carts, .

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