A Fabergé silver-gilt pearl and enamel heart shaped photograph frame enclosing a miniature of Empress Maria Fedorovna, workmaster: Michael Perchin, the miniature signed Zehngraf, St. Petersburg, circa 1890
- height: 7.5cm, 3in.
Purchased by Empress Maria Fedorovna (1847-1928) on 10th January 1906
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Fabergé-Cartier Rivalen am Zarenhof, 28 November 2003 - 12 April 2004, cat. no. 196
Géza von Habsburg, Fabergé-Cartier Rivalen am Zarenhof, Munich, 2003, p. 204
A heart is an instantly recognised symbol of love. Given Fabergé's great ability to anticipate the wishes of his clients it is not surprising that the heart-form was frequently incorporated into the firm's designs. In the context of private imperial commissions, heart-shaped frames provided the 'surprise' in two of the Easter eggs presented by Emperor Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, (the 'Mauve Enamel' egg of 1897 and the 'Pansy' egg of 1899). On a less extravagant but equally intimate level, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna gave her husband, Emperor Nicholas II, heart-shaped cufflinks to mark the occasion of the christening of each of their children. These cufflinks were set with the cipher of the Empress and that of the newly christened child.
Fabergé also made a variety of heart-shaped objects for sale in the various branches of his firm. Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna purchased several such items, including the present frame, on 10th January 1906, and the Siberian quartz bonbonnière, on 17th December 1899, (lot 21). For Christmas 1900 the Dowager Empress gave her sister-in-law, Queen Olga of Greece, a heart-shaped tray of aventurine quartz contained in a fitted Fabergé case (see Géza von Habsburg, Fabergé in America, New York, 1996, cat. no. 215). Fabergé also adopted the heart form for clocks (see Fabergé Joaillier des Romanov, Brussels, 2005, cat no. 184 (Kremlin, Moscow, inv. no. MR-12010)), however, it was in the realm of jewellery that the motif was most frequently used.
This frame, which was probably originally intended to be used for a photograph, is inset with a portrait miniature of Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. It is likely that the recipient of the frame, the Dowager Empress's sister, chose to make the present she had received even more personal by adding such an image. The portrait is painted by Johannes Zehngraf (1857-1908), a pupil of the Academy of Copenhagen. In 1889 Zehngraf settled in Berlin, however, by the mid nineties he had moved to St. Petersburg. There he provided miniatures for three of the Easter eggs made by Fabergé for Emperor Nicholas II (the 'Revolving Miniatures' egg, 1896, the 'Pelican' and 'Lilies of the Valley' egg, both 1898). Zehngraf painted miniature portraits of several members of the Imperial family, including two of Empress Maria Fedorovna, which were mounted in Fabergé frames and today form part of the British Royal Collection (RCIN 40107 and 32472). Subsequently Zehngraf returned to Berlin where he was patronised by William II, German Emperor and King of Prussia and by Ferdinand I, Tsar of Bulgaria.
Zehngraf has based this portrait of the Empress Maria Fedorovna upon a photograph taken at a slightly earlier date by A.A. Pasetti. It was evidently an image that particularly appealed to the Empress, for it provided the starting point of Konstantin Makovsky's portrait painted in 1912, which commemorated the sitter's sixty-fifth birthday (Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, inv. no. ZB-1932).
The note in Danish translates: My beloved Thyra Christmas Eve 1905