The Story of the Matryoshka


When many people think of Russia they think of a certain type of doll known as the matryoshka, a sort of egg shaped wooden capsule painted to resemble a Russian woman.  But just how “Russian” are these toys really?

The art of making matryoskas actually pre-date their involvement in Russian culture.  The original design for the matryoshka was inspired by a doll from Honshu, the main island of Japan. Although many texts describe the original Japanese doll differently, sometimes a Fukurokuju doll sometimes a Daruma doll, but it’s all agreed this is where Vasily Zvyozdochkin obtained his inspiration.

He created the first Matryoshka doll in 1890 and it was painted by Sergey Malyutin. The first doll was painted to look like a young Russian woman holding a chicken. Inside this woman was a young boy and girl and then finally a baby as the smallest of the set. Savva Mamontov’s wife then presented the doll at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris where it won a Bronze Medal. After this event the doll slowly gained popularity throughout Russia and became a symbol of the region. The doll depicted above is said to resemble the original doll.

Here’s a very brief bit of the demonstration I was able to see today.

Many times Matryoshkas come in average sizes but as shown above the dolls can be any size. The particular factory I visited only allowed matryoshkas made by hand. The average number of dolls made per day was 10. This may seem like a lot but when I watched the speed the individuals worked at it became clear they probably surpass this number daily. Just looking at the small sizes in the picture below is enough to amaze me. The amount of precision and concentration to make something so delicate and small is astounding.




3 thoughts on “The Story of the Matryoshka”

  1. I found it interesting that Matryoshka dolls were inspired by Japanese designs. My kids have been interested in their heritage lately and found out that they have some Russian ancestors. They’ve been so interested in their culture since then that I’m thinking of getting each of them a nesting doll.

  2. Great post, thank you!
    According to The Russian Store, one of the Semyonov nesting dolls created in 1970 was included into the Guinness world records book. It had 72 pieces. The matryoshka was shown in Japan at Expo-70 exhibition.
    Artist needs to have amazing skills in order to make a nesting doll, especially if he/she makes the largest doll or the tiniest one.

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