Russia had rarely been considered part of Europe before the reign of Tsar Peter I, Peter the Great (r 1682 – 1725). His supremacy saw the start of the transformation towards Westernisation. It was Tsar Peter who founded St Petersburg in 1703, which went on to surpass Moscow as the empire’s largest city.
By the late 1700’s, German-born Catherine the Great (r 1762 – 96) who had overthrown her husband Peter III in a coup d’état to become Empress, continued Russia’s Westernisation by commissioning German furniture, Sevres porcelain, artwork and goods from Europe. Catherine patronised craftsmen and local silversmiths, encouraging them to move from the provinces to St Petersburg and Riga. Catherine extended the tsar’s Winter Palace by building what was known as the ‘Little Hermitage’ to house and display her fantastic art collection.
It was in these premises, many years later in 1872 that Peter Carl Fabergé a young Russian jeweller, of French descent, volunteered to help and restore the antique treasures. Impressed with Fabergé’s craftsmanship Tsar Alexander III (r 1881 – 1894) appointed Fabergé Imperial Court Jeweller. Although every ornamental egg produced by Fabergé for the Royal Family was unique, Fabergé’s workshop employed over five hundred craftsmen and silversmiths, and it was through these hands each piece was created. Fabergé designed many silver items such as hollow ware, tea services, vases and decorative boxes for the Imperial Court, and specific items, such as candelabra presented to the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova at the turn of the century.
The first, and most famous Silversmith’s Artel, (ICA) a semi-formal co-operative of silversmiths, was supported via the House of Fabergé in St Petersburg from 1909.