Archive for April 14, 2007

History of the Matroyshka Doll   11 comments


I have had several inquiries regarding Matroyshka Dolls so I decided to share some facts on what I could find on the history of the Matryoshka Doll.   The above picture is of my biggest matryoshka doll which is a little over 8 inches and has a total of 15 dolls. My mom and dad brought this doll back for me from one of their trips to Russia.  Below you will see how small the smallest piece is in this collection!

The History:

The “Russian” matryoshka doll came to Russia from Japan at the end of the nineteenth century. Little more than 100 years ago, Russia was experiencing an economic boom and a rising sense of culture and national identity. New artistic trends were developing, and a “Russian style” was growing and focusing on the revival of traditions that were in danger of being lost. 

In St. Petersburg, Russia, in December 1896, an exhibition of Japanese art opened. Among the exhibits was a doll depicting a Buddhist wise man named Fukuruma. The sage was shown as a bald-headed old man with a wooden body that could be split at the waistline into two halves; nested inside were the images of the man when he was younger and bearded and still with hair on his head. The doll came from the island of Honshu; the Japanese claim that they are the inventors of nested dolls or matryoshka, but they also generously admit that the first nested dolls made on Honshu were carved and painted by a Russian monk. That first set of dolls showing Fukuruma is in the Artistic Pedagogical Museum of Toys (APMT) in Sergiyev Posad, a city in Russia that is a cultural center for the making of matryoshka dolls.

Meanwhile, the matryoshka began developing its Russian identity thanks to an industrialist Savva named I. Mamontov (1841-1918). Mamontov was also a patron of the arts and a believer in traditional and nationalistic artistic expression. He established an art studio at his Abramtsevo estate near Moscow. This studio was also an innovation and was the first of a number of “artistic units” around the country where folk craftsmen and professional artists worked together to preserve the skills, techniques, and traditions of Russian folk art including peasant toys. Mamontov’s brother, Anatoly Ivanovich Mamontov (1839-1905) created the Children’s Education Workshop to make and sell children’s toys.

The first Russian matryoshka set worked by Vassily Zviozdochkin and painted by Sergei Maliutin (an illustrator of children’s books) was made at the Children’s Education Workshop and shows a mother carrying a red-combed rooster—inside are her seven children, the smallest being a sleeping, bundled baby.


 The Name:

Russian “nesting” dolls were called matryoshka because in old Russian among peasants the name Matryona or Matriosha was a very popular female name. The Latin root of this name – “mater” means “Mother”. This name was associated with the image of a mother of a big Russian peasant family who had a portly figure. Even today, when artists are painting a variety of subjects, the image of the robust and cheerful mother is still one of the most popular. Depending on the artist’s imagination the themes on these dolls can be anything from Russian fairy tales, Russian churches and architecture of the Russian cities and towns, and traditional scenes from Russian life.

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Posted April 14, 2007 by Lana G! in Art, History, Life, Matryoshka Dolls, Random, Russian