Tag Archives: #MuseumMonday

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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Cabinet of Curiosities


Cabinet of Curiosities


Mary Jo Gibson

A memorable Museum Experience engages the visitor on levels expected and unexpected. Participation with new technologies opens deeper communication and understanding of the exhibit, inspiring intuitive learning; museums have this ability in spades.  Making the old new again with hands on exploration moves an exhibit to a level of relevance not considered in the previous scope of art, deepening the connection to the viewer; bringing all the senses into the Museum Experience.

Authors Own

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Viewing the Chicago Art Institute’s Augsburg Cabinet is stunning, however, not complete, as the hidden treasures within lie beyond the opulent doors.  Technology has produced a stunning video that shows the inner workings of the cabinet, the separate compartments, and the art that adorn the deeper recesses.

Authors Own Interactive

Cabinets made in the southern German town of Augsburg during the 16th and 17th century are famous for their showy decorations, typically executed in ebony veneer and ivory inlay, as with this excellent specimen on display in Gallery 234.  The craftsmanship of this decoration is matched by the inventiveness of the cabinets’ interior structure, part display case, part tool chest and part safe-deposit box.  These were usually commissioned by one craftsman who subcontracted the various specialized components and then sold the completed object from his shop.  Cooperation between silversmiths, cabinet makers and goldsmiths, a constant aspect of Augsburg craftsmanship, facilitated the production of elaborately mounted mirrors, clocks, traveling services and these specialized cabinets.  Produced in small series, the cabinets usually have only minor variations in decoration, they are calculated to appeal, in iconography, ornateness and expense to a limited circle of the court and the upper bourgeoisie.

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute


Charity is represented atop the cabinet as a mature woman with small children.  She represents the Greek principle of unselfish love.  Three children accompany the figure of Charity, one as a baby in her arms (sadly missing his head due to damage over time), and the others two entwined about her legs, clutching her hands.

Authors Own

Charity, Augsburg Cabinet


The Arabesque Ornamental forms that cover the outside of the cabinet contrast sharply with the black sheen of its ebony veneer.  These sinuous forms were characteristic across the decorative arts during this period.  The motif was heavily influenced by contemporary engravings of Islamic and Moorish patterns.

Authors Own Detail

Duchamp’s Fountain

I had the pleasure of listening to the BBC podcast of Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal, and must say I was quite taken by the subversive nature of this artist.  I would like to thank Ben Street for sharing this podcast on Facebook.

Duchamps Valise

I looked into some more of Mr. Duchamp’s art, and found that he was a close friend of Peggy Guggenheim, who lived in Venice.  Several of his Box in a Valise (Boite en-valise) are famous 3-d efforts in the shape of a small suitcase or valise, each remarkable on their own. These small cases contain miniature replicas and color reproductions of works by the artist. He gifted one to his patron Guggenheim, which included a small version of the celebrated fountain, perhaps a sample version of the original.   The exhibited urinal has never been found since it was first viewed by the  Society of Independent Artists committee in 1917, subsequently rejected, photographed professionally by Alfred Stieglitz, never to be seen again.

Duchamps Fountain

While ‘modern’ art and the various movements have never been my cup of tea, this story and its destabilizing undertones gives me pause to re-evaluate my personal thoughts on these creations, and the artists.


Francis Willughby, Unsung Natural History Connoisseur, and Batman, The Dark Knight Rises


Sir Issac Newton’s Principia (Philosophaie Naturalis Principia Matrhematica) famously was to be the first book published by the Royal Society, however this was circumvented by another publication, A History of Fishes, by Francis Willughby and John Ray.  Samuel Pepys was president of the society at the time and is named on the title pages of both books.  While Newton is a name that has survived the centuries with his apple and gravity conclusions, Willughby and Ray have fallen aside through the annals of time.

frontspiece willughby and ray

Willughby was once Ray’s student and the two travelled together, studying, collecting birds and fish.  After the untimely death of Willughby, Ray oversaw the culmination of their notes and drawings into three books. These studies are considered the beginning of scientific ornithology taxonomy in Europe, dismissing the older inaccuracies of Aristotle.  Their collection of birds and fish is stored at Willughby’s family home, Wollaton Hall now the Nottingham Natural History Museum.  Wollaton Hall, incidentally, stars as Wayne Manor in the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.  Trumped by Willughby, again I believe, Sir Newton.

Batmans House

Batman on the stairs

Thank you for joining me for this edition of Cabinet of Curiosities. Albrecht Durer will be following soon!



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