So I woke up at around 6:30 this morning so I could go see one of these saucy bastards:
That’s one of the four Imperial Eggs they had on display at the Peabody Essex museum’s Faberge Exhibit.
The exhibit featured around 300 pieces of art from the House of Faberge company based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which operated from its foundation in 1842 by Gustav Faberge until 1918 when the Bolshevik Revolution nationalized their company. Although they tried to reestablish themselves in other countries, the business eventually failed entirely, with the brand name Faberge passing hands between a number of companies and holders to this day. I would say more specifically what’s been happening, but, honestly, it’s an artistic shitstorm of Biblical proportions. Like, the Great Deluge of backstabbings and pile-drivings.
Obviously, the main attraction at the exhibit was the famed Faberge Eggs, which to this day are highly valuable, often raking in a great deal of money in international markets for independent sellers. However, the exhibit showcased a number of other things that the House of Faberge was famous for, the chief among these being their attention to realism and detail in making animals from precious minerals.
Dachshund’s seemed to be especially popular.
It was the House of Faberge’s attention to minute details and the striking realism of many of their pieces, especially when it came to silver, gold, and copper. This very quickly resulted in a sponsorship from the Romanov family, then the Imperial Family of the Russian Empire. House Faberge went on to make lavish decorative egg jewelry and displays for the Romanov family, as well as elaborate picture frames, decorative silver, candelabras, necklaces, figurines, and much more. They were also on of a few Russian companies allowed to display the Romanov crest on their art, which is the famous two-headed crowned black eagle on gold.
Personally, my favorite pieces were the House of Faberge’s work with silver, as well as their lovely enameled boxes, often designed around a famous work of Russian art.
This silver drink bowl is actually much bigger than it looks, being most probably around two feet in length. The bowl flares outward at the front in the shape of waves, eventually forming exquisitely detailed Medieval Russian warriors on horseback. This was for special display for honored guests and important diplomats.
This box was my personal favorite. The enameled casket was shockingly intricately wrought, really displaying a kind of decadence and power without seeming off-putting or gaudy. The stylized flowers and foliage really make the blues and golds and subtle whites pop in person. All of this is designed around the painting “Warrior at the Crossroads” by Viktor Vasnetsov, which is one of my personal favorites. I’m not quite sure why, but I just find the painting very visually and emotionally striking.
Overall the exhibit was nice. It really showcased the wide variety of the House of Faberge’s products and the mastery over many crafts displayed by the artists there. The exhibit was also accompanied by a good deal of information about the Romanov family and Russian nobility in general for people who might be less than knowledgeable about the world they lived in, which I thought was nice. I did think it was entertaining that around two-thirds of the way through the exhibit they mention that the Grand Duchess Olga Romanova was her father’s, Tsar Nicholas II, favorite daughter. As if we couldn’t get that by how many pictures of Olga were on display in the frames compared to, say, Tatiana, or even Alexei, the heir apparent.
We spent about three hours there, having gotten back into Salem around 11am and leaving just after 2pm. Our journey then took us to Gloucester, where we visited Hammond Castle, a home built by John Hays Hammond Jr. between 1926 and 1929.
Presently, the late Mr. Hammond’s home has become a museum displaying his eclectic and somewhat questionably obtained collection he put together over the long years of his life.
J.H. Hammond Jr. is possibly best-known as a pioneer in the field of remote control, and the man held nearly six hundred patents when he died, making him a fabulously wealthy man. When he died in 1965, the non-religious Hammond actually left his house to the Catholic Church, but the property was eventually placed back in secular hands.
The architecture is a mixture of Norman, Gothic, and Roman styles, with a touch of the North African in the small courtyard pool area in the center of the complex just outside of the Great Hall. Hammond wanted his building to be his personal creation like many Medieval lords of Europe, and he certainly achieved that. The hallways, passages, towers, and rooms were all distinctly Medieval in their design, with most spaces fairly small to conserve heat, and each stairwell was barely large enough to allow the average man to pass through with relative ease, just as it would in a Medieval castle. Complete with a dry-moat and a drawbridge into the Keep, this was the real deal.
Hammond Castle’s Great Hall was by far my favorite part of the building. The elaborate masonry combined with the numerous stained glass pieces arranged by his wife, whom Hammond built the castle specifically for, which hearken to French cathedrals. Some, like the one in this picture, are specifically based on classic and iconic stained glass images, this one a copy of the Rose in the cathedral of Reims, France. The room was filled with Medieval armor, weapons, iconography (which seemed to include an original of a Black Madonna. Unfortunately no one was around to ask when I noticed it, so that’ll be a mystery.
The Great Hall also featured a brilliant pipe organ design, the entire hall being built around the acoustics of this specific organ. The poor thing broke nine years ago, but it was still quite interesting to look at nonetheless.
One of the more entertaining parts of this adventure was discussing how blatantly illegal most of the collection throughout the castle would be if collected today with one of the staff members (Who had a nigh on crippling stutter. But, she still managed to be memorably adorable despite that, so good on her there, haha). Much of the collection included Roman tombstones, Roman and early Medieval religious stone iconography that was very obviously obtained through a “hey, how much do you want for this stone thing” method. Apparently it was around a year after he died that the first real legislation on an international level was passed that prevented the sale of artifacts to foreign buyers without approval from the home government. I can only imaging how sparse his walls would be if he couldn’t have embedded what must have been at least five dozen pieces throughout the castle. Many of the Medieval hangings and tapestries were also obtained through questionable means in the modern eye. Truth is, there was no legislation then on this sort of thing. You could buy literally whatever you wanted as long as you could pay the asking price. We shared a good laugh over how because he made the castle a “museum” in his living years he payed no taxes on the land, and he also got tax cuts on each and every item he bought, often personally inflating the price he supposedly paid so as to make money on each item he purchased. People are silly.
I also appreciated that, in much of a Medieval fashion, Hammond had a display tracing his family history back to Charlemagne the Great. Because if you go back far enough, eventually you’ll hit a “. . . the Great” or a ” . . . the Magnificent” or ” . . . the Terrible” (Which coincidentally in the case of Ivan the Terrible was a good thing. The people loved that guy.)
Apparently Hammond was quite the joker as well. He loved playing tricks on house guests. This ranged from spontaneously turning on the sprinklers to surprise them, to wallpapering the backs of bedroom doors so people couldn’t find their way out without finding a secret button to swing the doors back open, to serving animal tongue only to regale the audience in his description of his dining room portrait of a man having his own tongue removed in the Inquisition, and much, much more. He was lighthearted, but had a fascination with the Gothic and occult, a love his wife shared deeply with him. Apparently they loved holding seances in their home, and the organization TAPS did an episode in the castle for their paranormal investigation program on Syfy (Does anyone else hate the new spelling for the channel? Because I certainly do.)
As a whole this was a fairly eventful day, and it actually got me thinking about a lot of writing ideas. Hopefully these come to mean something in the future.
Until next time!