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A Traditional Russian Souvenir – Matryoshka

A Traditional Russian Souvenir - Matryoshka

Matryoshka is a traditional Russian souvenir and the most popular doll which appeared in Russia in 1890.  Originally, Matryoshka was created as a toy for children. However, later many people noticed the features of the Russian national character in it, and it became one of the symbols of Russian folk art and traditional culture. 

The history of creation

A detachable Japanese figure of the Buddhist god Fukurokuju, in which, like in the Russian Matryoshka, there were several figures of different sizes, became the prototype of the Matryoshka doll. A woodworker Vasily Zvyozdochkin and a painter Sergey Malyutin were the first creators of the Russian Matryoshka which consisted of eight dolls.

History of the name

A Russian wooden doll which wears a sarafan and an apron was called “Matryona”, as in Russian before 1917 this name was rather popular and it associated with a mother of a large family. Later it was nicknamed – Matryoshka. It also represents the image of the Russian beauty who is famous in numerous Russian fairytales and songs.

A Traditional Russian Souvenir - Matryoshka

The symbolic meaning of the doll is motherhood and fertility.

How Russian Matryoshka is made?

The process of making the dolls is quite complex and it requires a lot of professionalism. The wood which will be used to carve the future doll should be soft. Mainly linden (very rarely birch, alder, or aspen) is used to make a doll.  Bars are usually prepared in the winter or early spring. Then the bark is removed, but not completely, so to prevent the wood from cracking in the process of drying.

Then the ready wood is piled and leave to dry for several years. The wood is processed when it gets rather dry. As a result, each work piece undergoes a large number of operations.

A Traditional Russian Souvenir - Matryoshka

First, the smallest and non-separable doll is made. This is necessary in order to determine the size of the second doll in which it will be placed.  After measuring the height of the second doll, it is cut into the upper and lower parts. The wood is removed from inside both parts, so that the first doll tightly gets inside the second one. After that, the same process is repeated with other dolls.

Nowadays, there are a lot of souvenirs with images of politicians, athletes, or other celebrities are made on the basis of the classic Matryoshka doll.

Painting of Matryoshka

A Traditional Russian Souvenir - Matryoshka

Before being painted, finished Matryoshka dolls are primed, after that, they are varnished. In the 19th century gouache was used to paint these toys. Nowadays, besides gouaches, aniline dye, watercolor, or tempera are also used. First, the doll’s face and apron are painted, then the sarafan and the scarf.

Although Matryoshka looks like an old toy, it has always been a visual embodiment of time. Matryoshka, as a special form of folk art, has great potential. It does not only convey the history, but it also develops with time.

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