The tradition of decorated eggs is linked to Easter, a celebration that is found in many Eastern European countries. Egg decoration has become a popular art, with a meaning well beyond the religiosity. Let us take Poland and pisanki eggs as an example.



The word pisanki (singular pisanka) comes from pisać, « to write » in Polish. Indeed, we do write on the eggs. Eggs are seen as pages to be filled on which the patterns are drawn and once assembled these patterns tell a story. It is an ancestral art as the earliest painted egg – using the same techniques as the ones used today – dates from the 10th century. This shows that the technique was already widespread, and it is very likely that it was used before.

The egg is a pagan symbol of nature’s rebirth. Moreover, it is linked to fertility, the return to agricultural work, births among livestock and the departure of herds in alpine pastures. As a symbol of rebirth, the egg has been integrated into Christianity as a symbol of Christ’s Resurrection and then associated with the celebration of Easter.

Eggs are sanctified on Easter Saturday as well as on Sunday, during the family meal, they are shared and exchanged between family members as token of friendship; eggs are also a symbol of good health, strength as well as success – when it comes to romantic relationships.

Oeufs peints - Roumanie - technique du batik


The batik technique:

Most of the time, duck or hen eggs are used, but it is not infrequent to decorate goose or even ostrich eggs. It is either cooked or emptied by making a small hole at each end and blowing the contents. The colour will depend on this choice. Indeed, hard-boiled eggs are cooked in a bath of vegetable colours or household dyes. Hollowed-out eggs, by contrast, are cold-dyed.

Before the applying of painting or dying patterns, the egg is first degreased and then rubbed with vinegar to make the colours brighter. Pre-drilled holes are sealed with wax to prevent the products from getting in and changing the colour of the shell. As the dyes are translucent, the shell must be immaculate. This also explains why the colouring baths are used from the lightest to the darkest. There are many baths to obtain the different colours.

The so-called batik technique, a negative technique, is applied between each dye: in order to preserve the last colour applied, the patterns are drawn with wax using a tool specifically designed for this purpose, the kistka, so that the next bath does not cover them.

The kistka is a handmade tool with a wooden handle and a sort of copper tank at its tip. This tank is first dipped in liquid wax, then used as a feather to write on the egg.

This process is carried out by overlapping layers of colours and wax alternating with each other. Once the final dye is obtained, the wax is removed by placing the egg near a heat source so that it melts, revealing all the colours. Finally, the last step is to wipe off the egg. The painting can be left matt or a glossy varnish is then added to reveal the brightness of the colours.

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Applying the first layer of wax on the egg using the kistka.
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Yellow dye bath. It is soaked for about twenty minutes.
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New wax layer after the yellow dye bath.
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The egg is placed over a light bulb to melt the wax.

It takes about an hour to create an egg, but craftsmen often work on series of ten eggs.


Other techniques:

The techniques are passed on from one generation to another and require real know-how. They are extremely diversified (over 400 different ones). The most widely used are variants of the batik technique.

In Poland, the term pisanki is also generic; indeed, it refers to other egg varieties made with other techniques. In particular, the technique of gluing leaves from trees or plants on to the egg before dipping it in a dye bath. After removing the leaves, we obtain a plant pattern on the egg shell. Akin to this technique, we find especially in eastern central Poland the nalepianki, which are eggs on which coloured papers are glued forming patterns that will no longer be removed. Alternatively, the skrobanka is the hollowed-out egg that is scraped with a sharp tool to reveal its original colour after it had been dipped in a bath of dyestuffs. Lastlty, patterns can be painted with a brush on hollowed or wooden eggs called malowanki.

Technique végétaux
Cooked eggs, vegetal patterns. For consumption at Orthodox Easter.
Skrobanka, brushed tinted egg.
Nalepianki, CC.
Nalepianka, egg with glued patterns.


Colour and symbolism:

Colours are made from natural plant decoctions. Red onion skins, for example, yield a burgundy brown colour; beet a bright red colour; oak bark yields black; nettle leaves yield a green colour, etc. But nowadays, the products are more often synthetic pigments, sold in small bags of dilutable powder.

Each colour has a specific meaning. For Christians, red used to symbolize Christ’s blood; blue, Lent and mourning; yellow, pink and green, Christ’s Resurrection. But the vast majority of the symbols still used today are originate in pagan traditions. Red also means happiness, sun and passion; black is eternity, memory; blue is a symbol of health; green is hope; white is the purity of innocence and birth; orange or light brown is strength and patience; yellow is sun, life, light but also wheat fields. In addition, in some countries such as Romania, colours are often associated with villages.


Patterns and symbols:

The patterns are generally geometric, but they can also use animal or vegetable shapes. There is as much variation in the techniques vary as in the decorations, which may differ from one region to another.

The most common pattern is a circle around the egg, symbolizing the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus, the stripes circling the pisanki represent the balance between the dark side of death and the bright side of growth and rebirth.

Loops and spirals symbolize protection.

Dots and small circles symbolize the stars, which bring luck and success.

Crosses often have a religious meaning, linked to Christ.

The solar pattern used is a pre-Christian pattern, a pattern used for protection in many crafts (wood carving, weaving). It is very present in Romania.

Motif solaire (2)
Solar pattern

The symbolism of each pattern is combined with that of the colours, making each egg unique in its own meaning. Thus, an egg with a line of blue meanders will be the water sign, which then symbolizes protection against fire and therefore fires in the house. Moreover, the vast majority of eggs are meant to be stored in houses, as protective amulets.


Today’s decorated egg art:

In some countries, especially Romania, techniques are still being passed on to children in leisure clubs today. Some festivals are regularly held in miscellaneous countries to promote egg craftsmanship during Orthodox Easter. Painted eggs are still in great demand today, with regular orders from souvenir shops for example. Tourism has an impact on the preservation of this craft.

The Muzeum Rolnictwa, the Museum of Agriculture in Ciechanow, Poland, exhibits a collection of more than 1,500 eggs. The Ethnographic Museum of Kraków also has a beautiful collection of pisanki.

In the small village of Vama, Bucovina, Romania, there is an Egg Museum with a collection of more than 6,000 eggs collected from all over the world for a total of 79 countries (see photos in Travel Notebooks > Christmas in Romania > Gura Humorului or on the website).

The popular art of egg decoration has led to the creation of truly precious objects such as a collection of eggs created by the Fabergé House, a great Russian jeweller; they are currently kept in various museums around the world.

Oeuf des muguets de la Madone, Maison Fabergé, 1899.
The Bouquet of Lilies Clock egg, the House of Fabergé, 1899. Offered by Czar Nicholas II to his wife.


Author: Estelle Pautret

Translator: Laurane Mandin

For further documentation:


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