Egg decorating is a traditional art found all around Eastern and Central Europe as well as Eurasia and predates the adoption of Christianity. This art form began when the people of this region were Pagan. The traditional designs have Pagan meanings which were later reinterpreted through the lens of Christianity.
In pre-Christian times, the egg symbolized the rebirth of the Earth during springtime and had many symbols related to Pagan sun worship. It became a symbol of Christ's resurrection after the adoption of Christianity and became the Easter egg.
People decorated chicken, goose, duck, and even ostrich eggs. Now people also decorate eggs made of other materials like wood.
There are different styles, techniques, and names for these eggs based on region. There are many different types of decorated eggs. Below you will find several, but not all, techniques used in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. You'll see that these different techniques are used in many Easter European countries. Though pysanky, for example, are often thought of as Ukrainian Easter eggs, the art of pysanky can be found in Russia, Poland, Belarus, and many other areas.
Fun Fact! The world's largest Czech egg is located in Wilson, Kansas!
Often, when people think of highly-decorated Easter eggs, Fabergé eggs immediately come to mind. These bejeweled eggs are quite different from the ancient art of painted eggs. Scroll to the end to learn about Fabergé eggs.
Symbolism in Ukrainian Pysanky
AżurkiCalled ażurki in Polish from the word ażur meaning "open work texture," are emptied out eggs that have been carved to create a lace-like effect.
Drapanki/SkrobankiDrapanki are made when the surface of an egg dyed a single color (kraszanka) is scratched with a sharp tool to reveal the white egg shell. These eggs are also called skrobanki. They are called driapanky in Ukraine, which comes from the word driapaty (дряпати), meaning "to scratch."
KrasliceKraslice are made on raw egg shells using a melted bees wax in a variety of colors. The egg is dyed one color and then motifs are drawn on the shell with colored wax using a special tool. The contents of the egg are emptied out after the egg is finished being decorated. Kraslice are seen in Czech, Slovak, Sorbian, and other cultures. Czech kraslice have different symbols, dye formulas, and rituals based on the region.
KraszankiEggs that are dyed one color are called kraszanki in Polish, krashenki (крашенки) in Russian, and krashanky in Ukrainian from krasyty (красити), "to decorate." These eggs are boiled with plant material such as onion skin to dye the shell. The material used determines the color. For example onion peels produce brown, beet juice makes pink, and oak or alder bark or walnut shells make black.
LystovkyYou can also create patterns on kraszanki using herbs and flowers. These eggs are called lystovky which is derived from the word for leaves. The plant is placed on the shell and held in place with pantyhose and an elastic band. Then the egg is dyed by boiling it in water with onion peels or other plant material. The herb or flower held flush against the shell keeps the dye from reaching the shell and when removed leaves a white outline of the flower against the colored background.
Maliovanky / MalowankiMaliovanky (Ukrainian) Malevanki (Russian) or malowanki (Polish) are eggs that have been decorated with paint and a paintbrush instead of with wax and dye. Many types of paint can be used including watercolor, tempura, and acrylic. The words maliovanky and malowanki are derived from the words to paint in Ukrainian and Polish. These eggs are painted in a variety of styles and do not necessarily carry the same traditional symbolism as pysanky for example. People paint not only on real egg shells, but on eggs made of wood, Styrofoam, and other materials.
NaklejankiNaklejanki or nalepianki (in Ukraine, nakleianky — from kleity (клеїти), "to glue on") — are made by gluing something to the surface of an egg. Traditionally, they were decorated with flower petals, colorful paper or scraps of cloth.
PysankyPysanky are raw eggs that are decorated using a wax-resistance method. The word pysanky comes from the word pysaty (писати), "to write." The designs are "written" in hot wax with a special tool called a kistka (кістка) which has a small funnel attached to hold a small amount of liquid wax. The wax protects the pores of the shell from the dye. The artist writes parts of the design, dyes the egg one color, and writes more until the end, when all the layers of wax are melted off to reveal the final design.
10 of the 50 Imperial Faberge Eggs
Peter Carl Fabergé created a series of fifty eggs for the Romanov dynasty between 1885 and 1916. The first ten eggs were commissioned by Aleksandr III. The first egg in the series, made in 1885, was a gift from Aleksandr III to his wife Maria Feodorovna and contained a golden hen with a diamond crown inside that contained a small ruby pendant. The other forty were made at the request of his son, Nicholas II. Nicholas commissioned two eggs each year, one to give to his mother and the other as a gift for his wife Aleksandra.
Following the 1917 Revolution, the Soviet government packed the eggs away inside the Kremlin. When the Soviet economy was in decline in the 1930s, the Soviets began to sell the eggs off to international buyers. Ten of the original fifty eggs are still on display in the Kremlin Armory Museum and nine are at the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. Many are scattered among different museums including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Royal Collection in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. However, eight of the imperial eggs are missing, their fate remaining a mystery to this day.
History of the Imperial Eggs
Perchyshyn, Luba, et al. Ukrainian Design Book I by Natalie and Luba Perchyshyn (1999-01-01) Gopher State Litho: Minneapolis, 1984.