The Inception of Matryoshkas

If you haven’t heard of the name Matryoshka, I am sure you have heard of the term nesting dolls or stacking dolls which by the way are synonymous to Matryoshka. Russian culture has preserved for long years a treasure of beautiful handmade doll making art and these handmade dolls that are known as Matryoshka or Russian nesting dolls are characterized by smaller wooden dolls within larger dolls. The name Matryoshka finds its roots in ancient Russian peasant lifestyle where it represented the female head of the family. In fact, it was a popular female name amongst the traditional Russian peasant families. The name actually derives from the Latin word ‘mater’ that refers to mother in a broader sense. The term evolved to become associated with the portly-mother image in a considerably high-numbered peasant family.

Russian towns located near the capital city Moscow provided the capital and the traditionally rich aristocrats with matryoshkas and many other artistic items. Craftsmen who were well acquainted in the art of toy-making and in the concept of making stacked Easter eggs, suddenly created these exceptional and timeless piece of exquisite art, just for entertainment. In no time, these immaculate-looking Russian nesting dolls captured the hearts of adults and children alike. In the initial period when nesting dolls were made, not on a large scale, a lot of the detailing in the painting of the dolls was given to the faces. These faces depicted people from real life in Russian history or the replica images of the common peasant woman. These images varied in styles and designs. Images of peasants, noblemen, politicians and merchants were drawn. As time passed by, even landscapes and Russian festivities were included in these creative nesting doll images.

Some of the early nesting dolls were characterized majorly by images of young girls dressed in Russian sarafans holding baskets filled with flowers, scythes and with a scarf on the head with winter fur coats, if any. There were other image themes like a wedding where the bride and the bridegroom hold candles in their hands, country themes that would have shepherd with a pipe or an old man with a lush beard and so on.

More than the painting, it is the turner’s expertise that played a major role in structuring the base model of these dolls, prior to the painting. The logs of wood would be placed on the turner’s lathe and no measurements would usually be taken, it was only through expert intuitions that these incredible masterpieces were created. Only a professional craftsman would know how to make really thin sides of the dolls and carve the exact dimensions of the smaller dolls such that they fit in the bigger ones with the right accuracy and with ease.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade