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.

ht: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-6/Matryoshka-Doll.html

 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.

Other Facts:

Matryoshka dolls are made of softer, light weight woods with a fine grain texture like lime, balsa, alder, aspen, and birch trees; lime is probably the most common wood type used for the dolls.  Each doll is hand painted and therefore completely unique. The  attention to detail and creative skill of the Matryoshka artists are nothing short of amazing. The dolls can range in size from large, 15″ masterpieces containing 40 or more successively smaller versions within, to teeny tiny creations that require a magnifying glass to paint as well as to see.  It can take from 5 days to 18 months for these creations to be completed.

Semyonovo Nesting Dolls

The biggest matryoshka contained 72 pieces and was 1 meter high. This unique doll was made in 1970 and was dedicated to the birthday of Soviet communist leader Lenin. Today, supposedly the largest single set of matryoshka dolls has 332 layers and stands over 5 feet tall and is owned by Todd Rabinowitz of Portland, Maine. The innermost doll is a painted grain of sand!

My Matroyshka Doll Collection: 

pictures-021f.jpg  pictures-010.jpg

The above pictures show my matryoshka collection again and me holding the smallest doll in that collection.  Remarkable the detail on that little girl!

These are some of the traditional dolls in my collection:

  pictures-023a.jpg  pictures-025a.jpg pictures-026x.jpg

And my not so traditional collections!:


Random Information I found on Wikipedia!

  • An episode of The Amazing Race included the players looking for clues hidden among several thousand matryoshkas
  • Australian composer Julian Cochran wrote a Russian inspired composition titled ‘Wooden Dolls’ about a group of Matryoshkas communicating.
  • These dolls have also appeared in sketches on Sesame Street , as a way of teaching children how to count from 1 to 10 and back.
  • In the 3rd season episode of Lost entitled “Expose“, the characters Nikki and Paulo steal $8 million worth of diamonds hidden in a Matryoshka Doll and then have to find the doll on the island after the plane crash.
  • Matryoshka Dolls are really beautiful.  If you have not had the opportunity to hold one in your hand and examine these dolls, I highly recommend that you find a store or someone with a collection so that you can see how truly unique they are!

    ht: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matryoshka_doll

    ht:  http://www.infohub.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2151

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

    11 responses to “History of the Matroyshka Doll

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    1. Fun, fun, fun. Glad you did the research.

    2. Pingback: Show & Tell Friday - Matroyshka Doll « Above the Clouds

    3. I have one! well a few between my mom and myself! I love them!

    4. Pingback: Christmas Tree Treasures « Above the Clouds

    5. That is some awesome info. It really helped me for my research project!

    6. can you please send me a picture of todd rabinowitz 5foot matryoshka doll

      thanks randy hill

    7. this is really good info!!!!

    8. A very good article. Thus, I have linked back to it from my blog. We are American missionaries living in Ukraine and I get questions about them too. Love your banner. Nice job on the blog. I’ll be back. I’m following and would love if you followed on mine too. Our missions blog: http://vintageterrace2.blogspot.com/
      Blessings, Coleen

    9. Sorry, I was on automatic, missions blog is http://franksukraine.blogspot.com
      the one I gave you is our art ministry blog, but that is where I posted and linked to you.

    10. helps me with my russian project! 🙂

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