Forgotten Dolls

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Matryoshka -- Russian nesting dolls


matryoshka russian nesting dolls

What are matryoshka? Matryoshka dolls are sets of hollow dolls typically made of linden wood which have been specially designed with a wood turning tool to nest one inside another. They are cut in half at the waist with the intent to be opened. The word 'matryoshka' derives from the Latin mater, meaning 'mother'.

Modern matryoshka designs can include animals, Soviet leaders, fairy tale figures, and pop culture icons.

History of Russian nesting dolls

The original set of matryoshka art dolls was originally created in Russia in 1890 by Sergei Maliutin and Vasiliy Zvezdochkin, who was inspired by traditional Japanese kokeshi dolls. The outermost figure is usually that of a woman in traditional Russian garb. Each successive doll is smaller than its predecessor. The innermost doll is a baby that cannot be opened. The original matryoshka dolls were presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900 and won a medal.

You can tell you have a full set if you have both the outermost doll, which can be identified by the "lip" around the bottom of the doll, and the baby which cannot be opened.

Types of matryoshka nesting dolls

Semenov matryoshka dolls:

The Semenov matryoshka dolls are made in a traditional style which is painted in aniline dyes. The apron is the focal point: there will be a large asymmetrical flower bouquet featuring a rose and violets. Three colours are used for these dolls: red, yellow, and green (typically a red headscarf with yellow dress and green detailing, or a yellow headscarf with red dress and green detailing). There is a spiral design on the headscarf of the dolls.

Viatka or Kirov matryohska dolls:

The Viatka matryohska dolls have rounded child-like facial features. They are painted in simple bright colours with a stylized floral design on the apron. The designs of this style have clean lines.

Tver or Kalinin matryoshka dolls:

Tver matryoshka are distinctive in that they are feature a wood-burned design on the raw wood. The darker woodburn tones enhance the detailing of their clothing. The colours used are very bright with non-stylized apron designs, and there is a lot of gold leaf detailing.

Polkhovsky Maidan matryoshka dolls:

The matryoshka from Polkhovsky Maidan are quite stylized, often having spiral curls for hair. Their outfits tend toward yellow tones with some reds and greens used, and a floral pattern on the apron. These are very traditional matryoshka.

Sergiev-Posad matryoshka dolls:

Those matryohska dolls produced in Sergiev-Posad are far more modern in appearance than those elsewhere. Many have detailed face-painting and bodies. The designs are not restricted to the traditional floral apron. It is not unusual to find matryoshka dolls from this region decorated with domed churches, snow scenes, and fairytale paintings.

Make your own matryoshka dolls

Paper matryoshka

Fabric matryoshka


Further reading

You might also enjoy this book:

This book can be difficult to find since it is out of print. Try eBay for items.

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