Матрёшка – a famous Russian tradition

25 August, 2014

Almost everybody knows them – beautiful wooden dolls of decreasing size, placed one inside the other: the Russian matryoshka (Матрёшка)! It is the most popular souvenir from Russia and you can’t leave this country without buying one!

The matryoshka is a Russian nesting doll, often named as babushka doll. The first matryoshka was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and painted by Sergej Maljutin. They were inspired by a doll from Honshu, the main island of Japan. The outer layer was a woman wearing a sarafan, a traditional Russian jumper dress, and a headscarf. It consisted of eight dolls with one male doll. The smallest doll is typically a baby lathed from a single small piece of wood. The first matryoshka was introduced to the public at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, where the toy earned a bronze medal. This was the starting point of the popularity of matryoshkas. Originally, they were used as toys and they represented the image of fertility, motherhood and family.

The meaning of matryoshka is “little matron” and it is linked to the female first name Матрёна (Matryona). Back then it was a very popular name and it includes the Latin word “mater”, which means mother. Today this name is a proper name and is no longer used as female first name.

The number of nested figures is traditionally not less than five, but there can be much more. In 1970, the biggest matryoshka was carved: it consisted of 72 dolls! They are often designed to follow a particular theme which were originally taken from traditional or fairy tale characters. Since the 20th century there are many matryoshkas which represent Russian leaders. The newest version is a matryoshka which starts with Vladimir Putin, continues with Dmitry Medvedev, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Josef Stalin and Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin. But there are also very modern and artistic styles.

A legend says that if you put a wish list inside the matryoshka, your wish will be answered. But the nicer and better manufactured the matryoshka is, the sooner your wish will come true.

You can buy a matryoshka in nearly every corner of Russia, but how about designing your own and individual matryoshka? Liden & Denz St. Petersburg offers a Matryoshka Doll Painting Master-class on Wednesday, the 27th of August. You will meet at the reception at 5 p.m. Don’t forget to sign up!


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