Russian nesting dolls or Matryoshka dolls are sets of wooden dolls that can be placed inside each other. They are so ingrained in Russian culture that they have become one of its most famous symbols.
Many travelers believe that the nested doll is an image of Russia's heart and soul.
Why are they called Matryoshka?
Matryona, Matriona, and Matryosha were popular names for Russian women till the Revolution of 1917. The word Matryoshka is derived from these names, and it also takes its roots from the Latin word 'mater,' which means mother or motherhood.
So it is plausible to say that the Russian nesting dolls are a symbol of motherhood. Each doll can be considered as the offspring of the largest doll in the set.
These dolls are also called babushka dolls, which is another word for grandmothers.
Matryoshka Doll Origins
Sergiev Posad, a city 45 miles northeast of Moscow, played a significant role in the history of Russian nesting dolls. This city is also home to the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, a beautiful monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church.
When the Russian nesting dolls began to gain popularity, the popular market across from the monastery housed an exciting collection of people, which included monks, merchants, and artisans, who mass-produced Russian nesting dolls and traded them to other parts of the Russian empire.
Some people believe that the first Russian nesting dolls were inspired by Japanese designs Fukurokuju or the "Seven Lucky Gods" of Japanese folklore.
Russian Matryoshka Story
History has it that Sergei Malyutin and Vasily Zvezdochkin created the first Russian nesting dolls. Sergei designed and painted the first Matryoshka dolls, while Vasily was in charge of carving them.
The biggest Matryoshka doll of this eight-piece set depicted a young peasant woman with a grandmother and a black rooster. The other seven dolls depicted her seven children. The first Russian nested dolls are exhibited at the Toy Museum in Sergiev Posad.
Nesting dolls became a popular toy for kids when the demand for smart toys boomed in Russian society. They quickly became popular among parents because they helped children better understand and distinguish sizes, shapes and learn how to count.
Another major event in the history of Russian nesting dolls happened in 1900. Savva Mamontov was a philanthropist who helped these beautiful dolls gain significant recognition, especially when his spouse brought the nesting dolls created by Malyutin and Zvezdochkin to the World's Fair in Paris that same year. Many attendees expressed their appreciation of these works of art, and the nesting dolls were awarded a bronze medal.
This achievement and the recognition received in the French capital spurred other Russian artists to create their nesting dolls.