The history of Matryoshka Dolls
The history of Matryoshka Dolls

The History of Matryoshka Dolls

What associates with Russia more than traditionally decorated matryoshka dolls in their beautiful headscarves? But how did they become the symbol of Russia and where do they come from?

Historically, the idea to create a nested object was born in China during the Song Dynasty as long ago as 960AD – 1279 AD! It started with The Chinese crafting nesting boxes. They symbolized ingenuity and gradually evolved into dolls, the smallest of which could be as tiny as a nail! They idea later became very popular in Japan. Japanese carpenters would depict the Japanese Seven Lucky Gods from the local mythology in the form of nested dolls. The biggest outer most doll would usually represent Fukurokuju - the Japanese god of happiness and longevity. His distinct feature was an abnormally long forehead!


Nestled dolls arrived in Russia only in the 19th century when Savva Mamontov, famous Russian merchant and patron of the art, was inspired by the Japanese dolls and wanted to give them a Russian spin to promote Russian folk art and crafts. According to one of the theories, the story of Russian nested dolls began when a small toy figure of a kind, old Japanese gentleman was brought to Mamontov’s toy shop in Moscow. 

The name Matryoshka originates from the Latin root for “mother”. Living up to this root they do have a very warm motherly appearance dressed in traditional Russian sarafans and headscarves. In Russian culture they would symbolize home, motherhood and plenty.

Its real fame Matryoshka dolls gained at the World Fair in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. They became immediate success and associated with Russia as much as wine is associated with France or beer with Germany.

These days you can easily find Matryoshka dolls in the city centre but the best place to hunt these beauties is the iconic Izmaylovsky Market:


Here you will find not only classic dolls but also ones in the form of political figures, cartoon characters and even celebrities! Political figures became especially popular in Russia with the introduction of freedom of expression during Gorbachov’s rule. Back then, he would be the largest doll with his predecessors inside in the descending order of their rule. Unlike in the highstreet shops of Arbat, haggling is welcome here!

Interesting facts:

-The biggest Matryoshka doll can be found at its original homeland – China. It is 30 metres tall and located in the city of Manzhouli. It’s surrounded by smaller Matryoshka dolls.

-The painting technique used for traditional Matryoshka dolls is called Khokhloma – a famous style of Russian wood painting

-The most numerous set of Matryoshka dolls consists of 51 pieces! The biggest doll is taller than half a metre! 


Useful links:

http://www.kremlin-izmailovo.com/ - official website of the Izmaylovsky Market in English

https://www.into-russia.co.uk/russia/moscow-city-break - Moscow city break

https://blog.teacollection.com/history-of-nesting-dolls - history of nesting dolls

http://www.matryoshkarussiandolls.co.uk/ - hand painted Matryoshka dolls from Russia are sold in this Lincoln shop

https://www.into-russia.co.uk/russia/two-capitals - Moscow and St Petersburg City Break



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