I’m pleased to present this guest review of the Taubman Museum of Art’s exhibition of Fabergé objects from the collection of Roanoke arts patron Dan Hodges, written by Hollins University sophomore Mikaela Murphy, a student in Hollins professor Ruth Epstein’s art criticism class. The Fabergé exhibition opened in May 2012 and closed Jan. 19. My thanks to Mikaela and Ruth for this interesting take on what the show signified. —MikeA
A review of Fabergé: The Hodges Family Collection
By Mikaela Murphy
If objects could speak, the cacophonous screams of the deposed Romanov aristocracy would emanate from the Fabergé pieces on display at the Taubman Museum. A compilation gathered by Daniel L. Hodges, Fabergé: The Hodges Family Collection features the creations of various workmasters from the St. Petersburg based House of Fabergé from the mid-1880’s onward until the fall of Imperial Russia. All pieces in the collection display an equal elegance and useless beauty that is well-suited for the curio cabinets of the appallingly rich. But in reality, these are not frivolous trinkets; they are reminders of the bloody end of the class that owned them, whose photogenic likenesses stare, frozen, from within the ornate frames and lockets. Photos of the four young Romanov Grand Duchesses in a soft pink enamel and gold frame bring to mind their murders at the hands of equality-seeking Revolutionaries. The girl’s round faces pout from behind miniature oval panes of glass, the last vestiges of their innocent youth preserved.
Other pieces do not elicit such an emotional response. On the Imperial Presentation Cigarette Case (produced prior to 1899) rests a crown encrusted with diamonds amid a sea of swirling deep blue enamel. Also remarkable was the large paperweight featuring a sterling serpent coiled around a gleaming turquoise stone. Like the serpent enticing Eve to take the forbidden fruit, the snake’s gelid expression is symbolic of ruthless greed; it dares the viewer to desire the excesses that were the undoing of Russia’s bourgeoisie.
Much the same as the precious metals and gems from which the Fabergé pieces were crafted, Russia’s nobility rose from the earth like the peasants who worked the land, calling into question the legitimacy of their reign. Essential to this exhibition’s resonance with American audiences it its timing. Given recent economic hardships, one can only hope that the message of the opulent Faberge pieces will not be lost: Material wealth, no matter how desirable, should never take precedence over humanity.