The Russian Matryoshka Doll is a popular collectible item that comes in many different artistic styles. However, what is the artistic history and inspiration of these lovely wooden nesting dolls?
What is a Russian Matryoshka Doll?
Russian Matryoshka Dolls, or Russian Nesting Dolls, are hand-carved dolls, or statues, made from wood. Each set of wooden nesting dolls has several dolls stacked one inside of the other. The largest doll, the mother, holds all of the smaller dolls, or babies, inside of her body. The smallest baby doll is solid wood and does not open.
These wooden nesting dolls are hand-painted to depict a specific theme. Traditional designs depict a mother dressed in the Russian folk dress costume called “Sarafan”. Flowers are also commonly found on matryoshka dolls. Other traditional designs include a religious subject matter. Eastern Orthodoxy is a major part of Russian life, so it’s not surprising that many Russian nesting dolls depict a Christian religious theme such as the onion domes of a Russian Orthodox Church.
More modern designs on the Russian Matryoshka Doll depict politicians, celebrities, animals, fairy tales, robots, and other strange, unique, and inspiring designs.
What does Matryoshka mean?
Matryoshka, or Matrushka, is another form of “Matushka”, which means “mother” in Russian. If you visit a Russian Orthodox Church, you’ll find parishioners referring to the priests’ and deacons’ wives as “Matushka”.
Matryoshka dolls are sometimes also referred to as Babushka dolls. Babushka is “Grandmother” in Russian.
The History of Russian Matryoshkas
The first Russian Matryoshka Doll was designed and created in 1890 in a New Moscow workshop known as “Children’s Workshop”. The wooden doll was carved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and hand-painted by folk artist Sergey Malyutin.
The first Matryoshkas were inspired by a Japanese nesting doll known as the Fukuruma. The particular doll that inspired the Russian version of the wooden nesting dolls depicted the Shichi-fuku-jin, or the Seven Gods of Fortune.
In 1900, the first Russian nesting doll was presented at the World Exhibition in Paris where it received the bronze medal. After that, Matryoshkas became a popular phenomenon and were then carved and painted all over Russia.
Modern Wooden Nesting Dolls
You can easily find a wide-range of Matryoshkas of varying designs all over the world. There aren’t just Russian designs, but Polish and Ukrainian as well. Many Americans design wooden stacking dolls as well, and you can find many of these on the Internet by doing a simple web search or visiting an auction site such as eBay.
Matryoshkas made today vary in style. Many are of traditional artistry, much like the first dolls carved and painted in Russia over a century ago. However, you will find increasing numbers of novelty matryoshkas depicting celebrities and politicians. In fact, in the early 1990s, matryoshka dolls depicting former communist leaders before the collapse of the Soviet Union were extremely popular collectors’ items.
Today, you’ll find Matryoshka dolls depicting American politicians as well as celebrities. We have found several online depicting popular (and not so popular) Republican and Democratic leaders of the modern era, as well as various celebrity caricatures.