The matrioskas were born as a toy accompanied by a legend but today they became the symbol of Russia and its culture .


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  • 1 History
  • 2 Materials, construction, painting and design of the Matrioska
  • 3 Legend
  • 4 Motherhood and tradition
  • 5 Matryoshka and politics
  • 6 Sources


The Matryoshka doll arrived in Russia from Japan in the late 19th century . A set of dolls representing the seven gods of fortune where the god Fukurokuju contained the other deities were exhibited in a Japanese art exhibition . The matrioska began to develop with its Russian identity thanks to Savva Mamontov, who brought the Japanese idea to his art studio in the State of Abramtsevo, near Moscow . Mamontov’s brother created a children’s toy workshop in Sergiyev Posad where Sergei Maliutin designed and painted a Russian replica of the Japanese dolls. In this way, Maliutin is credited with creating the first matrioska in Russia.

Materials, construction, painting and design of the Matrioska

Matryoshka are generally made of wood , with linden wood being the most widely used due to its lightness and fine texture . The trees that are destined to make matrioskas are cut in April, which is when they have more sap. After being cut into blocks and processed for at least two years, a master lumberman makes the choice of the pieces that will be used to create the dolls. All the dolls included in a matryoshka must be built from the same block of wood, since the expansion and contraction of the wood – as well as the humidity – are unique characteristics that vary from block to block.

The carver’s job includes few tools, including a lathe and chisels of various sizes. The first figure to be carved is the smallest, this being the only whole piece, it is the one that will give the others the measure. Then the bottom of the next part is carved, leaving as a last job the upper ring that will be joined with the upper part of the wrist. The process continues until all wrists have been completed. Once you have the top and bottom, they are joined on the previous piece and left to dry, this in order to ensure that the union between the pieces is firm. The job of turning the pieces and fitting them together is quite difficult and requires a lot of skill, taking into account the fact that no measures of any kind are taken during this process.

The wood at the end of the turning is white, due to its origin, and it is mainly treated with oil to isolate the wood from external humidity changes and so that the same humidity of the wood does not escape; then a paint base is applied and left to rest. The carving of the dolls itself was much more appreciated than the painting at the beginning, but this relationship has changed, with painting today being a preponderant factor in appreciating a matrioska.

The matrioskas are painted mostly with oil paints, although there are matrioskas painted with watercolors, they are rare due to the difficulty of the material. Formerly the dolls were painted with gouache, which is a painting similar to watercolor but more opaque; with tempera paints on an emulsion of animal origin; and with watercolors, which was a rather difficult art to achieve apart from being very expensive. Most of the matrioskas are completely painted, but some leave wood in sight, thus creating a background for the subject that the artist has decided to use. At the end of the piece, the artist places his signature and the number of pieces in the set at the bottom of the largest doll. For the finish, the pieces are covered with lacquer and to a lesser extent with wax or varnish.

The most common designs show Russian mothers and flowers as decorations. At first, designs evoking religious motifs were common and re-emerged after the Russian reopening of religion. It is also possible to find that the most detailed and valuable designs do not contain faces.


The anonymous author’s story “Matrioska” from Russian literature recounts the birth of Sergei Maliutin’s hand dolls: “In old Russia there lived a doll maker Sergei. One cold winter day , Sergei found a piece of heavy wood, dry and very old, and with it he carved a doll that he named Matrioska “. The manufacturer decided to keep the doll with him and greeted her every morning: “Good morning Matrioska”.

One day the doll responded to Sergei’s greeting and from there every day the two talked. But one morning Matrioska was very sad and explained to Sergei that he would like to have a daughter. The manufacturer explained to him that he had to extract wood from its interior and that it would be very painful. Matrioska accepted the sacrifice, Sergei removed the wood and carved a similar but smaller doll to the one named Trioska. It happened that Trioska also felt the need to be a mother. So old Sergei extracted the wood from within and made an even smaller doll, which he named Oska. After a time Oska also wanted to have her own daughter, but when Sergei opened it she realized that only a minimal piece of wood remained. Just a doll more could be made. Then Sergei had a great idea. He made a little doll with mustaches which he called Ka: “Look Ka, you are a man, remember that you cannot have a son or a daughter within you.” Then Sergei introduced Ka into Oska, Oska into Trioska and her into Matrioska.

And this is the story of Segei and her Matrioska doll. One day Matrioska disappeared and they have never found her again. It will be in an antique store or on the shelf of an old bookstore . If you find her, never hesitate to give her the greatest affection, because she did not hesitate to make the greatest sacrifice to achieve something as important as motherhood.

Maternity and tradition

The images painted on the dolls are usually women in typical Russian clothing. The woman is a mother. The name “matrioska” derived from the Latin “mater” refers to the mother and the use of this term is common in Russia.

Thus, matrioskas are symbols of fertility and motherhood . Maliutin’s earliest designs represented Russian customs and symbols. The matrioskas could carry a loaf of bread in their hands as a symbol of welcome to Russia; or vegetables like beets that gave account of the wealth of the land . The typical flowers of the cities in which they were made were also a common design on the wrists .

Matryoshka and politics

Under the Soviet regime, special emphasis was placed on the mass production of dolls. In the 1980s, with the opening of Russia and other Soviet countries to the West, designs diversified and matrioskas appeared in the artist’s individual style. During Perestroika, matrioskas representing the leaders of the Soviet Union proliferated. The largest doll represented Mikhail Gorbachev , then Leonid Brezhnev , then Nikita Khrushchev , Iosif Stalin, and finally Vladimir Lenin .

More recent versions begin with Vladimir Putin followed by Boris Yeltsin , Gorbachev , Stalin, and Lenin .

Today matrioska dolls acquired a purely popular character and became the main tourist souvenir. As part of the Russian tradition, the toy is an essential part of the Russian national culture.


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