- Posted by: Elena Killiakova
- Category: Matryoshka’s diary
Russian must-have souvenir doll
Welcome to the new edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. Today’s blog will be dedicated to matryoshka, a traditional wooden doll, and a popular Russian souvenir.
Where was matryoshka born?
Have you ever heard of Savva Mamontov, a famous Russian industrialist, merchant, and patron of the arts? According to one of the versions, matryoshka was at the Mamontov’s workshop:
The wife of Mamontov once brought a wooden figure to the workshop. It depicted a Japanese wise man and contained five figurines of his students inside. Inspired by this multi-layer idea, Vasily Zvezdochkin carved eight wooden figures, and Sergey Malutin painted them.
The first Matryoshka resembled a lady in a shawl holding a black cockerel. Inside were figurines of boys and girls, with the last one being a baby. This doll is still preserved at the Toy Museum in Sergiev Posad outside Moscow.
What’s the origin of the name?
Matryoshka is actually a version the old Russian female name Matryona, that was popular in the 19th century among peasants. Matryona means “mummy”, “respectable lady” or “the mother of a big family”. The name perfectly suited this Russian doll with the entire “family” inside.
What is matryoshka made of?
A Matryoshka starts from the right wood. The most suitable tree for making the doll is a linden. However, some makers also use wood from birch, aspen, or larch trees. The tree should be cut in early spring or winter, when it has little to no sap. The bottom part of the doll is made from wood that was dried for two to three years. The upper part is made from fresh wood, which will dry later: that’s why the doll can close so tightly.
Interesting fact about matryoshka: how big is the biggest matryoshka and where does it live?
Just right where Russia, Mongolia, and China meet, there is a Chinese city of Manzhouli, which is home to the biggest matryoshka (30 meters) in the world. There is a mall and amusement park called ‘Matryoshka’. The main Matryoshka is surrounded by eight smaller dolls and 200 even smaller figures. Moreover, the vast majority of modern Matryoshkas are also now made in China. In Russia, dolls are still produced in some villages in Nizhny Novgorod.
Meet matryoshka’s international family
You would not believe it, but the doll’s ancestor is a figure of the Japanese sage Fukurama which depicted a good-natured old man with an outstretched head. The figure could be split and had a smaller-sized figure of the same sage hidden inside, which in its turn also contained a smaller sage, and so on until the fifth one.
It is believed that the Fukurama figurine was brought to Russia by Elizaveta Mamontova, the wife of a major industrialist, entrepreneur and patron Savva Mamontov, from her travel to the island of Honshu. A few years later, the famous Russian matryoshka was born.
What is so special about matryoshka?
The main purpose of the doll is to surprise. Matryoshkas portray female characters as well as male characters. Some popular examples include a bride and a groom, famous figures or politicians. For artists who paint matryoshkas their imagination is the only limit!
Unsure if you should buy matryoshka as a souvenir?
Matryoshka dolls are popular and iconic Russian souvenirs. It’s possible to buy very simple matryoshkas in sets of five or seven. More elaborate matryoshka dolls might hold 20 nesting dolls or more.
Matryoshkas can be found outside of Russia in several neighbouring countries, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
However, the largest variety can still be found on the Russian market.
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