Most people think that the history of a Matrioshka doll lies deep in Russia; however, the truth is that the first nesting doll actually came from Japan. In the end of the 19th century, a woman brought a figure doll of a Japanese saint – Fukuruma – to Russia. The doll was made of two pieces – top and bottom – and upon separating the two, one could find another, smaller doll inside, also made of two pieces. There were four dolls total, all different and comical, and all of Fukuruma.
This figurine was seen by an artist – Malyutin – who sketched a similar doll, but made in the style of a Russian woman. A carver named Zvezdochkin then recreated this doll, which became to be known as Matrioshka (the name is derived from the Russian name Matriona, affectionate diminutive of which is Matrioshka). It is believed that the reason for the creation of Matrioshka and its popularity lies deep in the Russian tradition of wood carving. Without this tradition, more than likely, Fukuruma’s figurines would not have given a jump start to this ever popular character.
Though Matrioshka was originally created as a toy for children, due to its high cost it was mainly bought by art connoisseurs. Every Matrioshka set was different, but each one was portrayed as a round-faced woman dressed in Russian traditional clothing, with the dolls inside being the same as the main nesting doll. Only several years later did carvers start making each Matrioshka doll inside each other to look differently and started practicing making nesting dolls that didn’t look like a traditional Russian woman (for example, today, you can find Matrioshka dolls of Putin, Yeltsin, and other political ‘heroes’ of Russia).
The number of Matrioshka’s inside the main piece ranges from 3 to 60! Though the latter is very rare, if you were to find such a super-Matrioshka, you would need to pay a hefty price to own it.
In Russia, there are several towns that rely fully on the trade of Matrioshka making. In these towns, Matrioshka, true to its name that derives from the Latin word for ‘mother’, is the provider for entire families. There are also museums dedicated to the trade and this wonderful doll, which has become dear to each and every Russian and is known worldwide.
So, when you are thinking about a souvenir to bring from your trip to Russia, think about Matrioshka – Russia’s greatest woman. And though you now know her true age, you don’t have to spoil the belief of others that carving nesting dolls is an ancient Russian tradition. In case you went to Russia and forgot one or two people on your list, you can always find a good alternative on our website – they will never know that you bought it in New York!