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dolls are the best known and most popular of all
Russian souvenirs. The Russian word for these wooden dolls
is matryoshka, but they are also called matrioshka, matreshka, matriochka,
babushka or babooshka dolls, babushka's doll, matroshka, matruska, matryushka, and
stacking dolls. Whatever you want to call them, nesting
dolls have a fascinating history, and they are the
classic Russian gift.
nesting doll design is one that looks like a young Russian
woman dressed in Russian native costume with a scarf on her
head. In the traditional nesting doll sets all of the dolls
look almost identical to one another, and the number of dolls
in the set ranges from 5 to 30, but some custom made matryoshkas
contain many more. In other cases, the set forms a theme,
such as the classic sets of nesting
dolls of Russian leaders, with each earlier leader nested
inside. That is a doll inside a doll inside another doll and so on.
store has over 400 different styles of carefully handcrafted nesting dolls, ranging
from the most traditional, to the latest political, entertainment,
and sports figures. To help you find the nesting doll that's
right for your occasion, we've organized them by theme. Please also note that we welcome orders from wholesale customers.
Russian Nesting Doll Styles
- Custom Made
Nesting Dolls as Gifts
nesting dolls make wonderful gifts, and are traditionally given
on many kinds of special occasions. For example, they make:
History of Matryoshka Nesting Dolls
Story Behind the Name
"Matryoshka" are Russian wooden dolls with smaller dolls
stacked within the bigger ones.
In provincial Russia before the revolution
the name Matryona or Matriyosha was a very popular female name.
It was derived from the Latin root 'mater' which means 'mother'.
This name was associated with the image of a mother of a big family
who was very healthy and had a portly figure. Subsequently, it
became a symbolic name and was used specially to describe brightly
painted wooden dolls made in such a way that they could be taken
apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another.
Even now nesting doll is considered to be a symbol of motherhood
and fertility. A mother doll with numerous dolls-children perfectly
expresses the oldest symbol of human culture.
The first Russian nesting doll turned by Vassily Zviozdochkin
and painted by Sergey Maliutin contaned 8 pieces: a girl with
a black rooster was followed by a boy and then by a girl again
and so on. All figurines were different from each other, the last
one was a figurine of a baby wrapped in diaper.
Confusion About the Name
One of the most widely spread errors in this area is the usage
of the word "babushka" to designate a nesting doll.
Linguistically this word is linked to the proper name ("matryoshka")
by sound-proximity of the distortion "matryushka" to
the word "babushka". This misleading link is further
strengthened by the meaning of the word "babushka".
language the word means "grandmother" and many,
by association, believe that "babushka" stands for a
"little grandmother doll", which is not so. A RussianLegacy.com
Internet survey has shown that out of 10,000 people who took part
in the statistics experiment most (51%) call "matryoshka"
dolls "nesting dolls", 10.5% - "babushka"
or "babushka dolls", 9.5% - "matrioshka",
17% - "babooshka", "matroshka", "matreshka",
"matryushka", "stacking doll" or "stackable
doll", and only 12% know the doll by its proper name - "matryoshka".
It was quite easy for Russian craftsmen who had had a considerable
experience in turning wooden objects which fitted inside each
other (for example, Easter eggs) to work out the nesting doll
The basic technique of nesting doll making remains unchanged.
As a rule nesting dolls are made from lime, birch, alder and aspen.
Lime is the most abundant material. The trees chosen to manufacture
nesting dolls are cut down at the beginning of Spring, usually
in April when the trees are full of sap. The felled trees are
stripped of their bark leaving a few rings to prevent the wood
from cracking. The logs prepared in this way with their butt-ends
smeared over are arranged in piles with a clearance between them
to allow aeration.
The logs are kept in the open air for two years. Only an experienced
master can tell when the material is ready. Then the logs are
cut into workpieces for nesting dolls. Every workpiece can be
turned as many as 15 times before the nesting doll will be ready.
Making a doll on a turning lathe requires high skills, an ability
to work with a beguilingly small set of tools - a knife and chisels
of various length and shape. The smallest figurine which cannot
be taken apart is usually made first. The bottom part of the next
figurine which can be taken apart is turned first. Then a workpiece
is turned to reach the necessary size and the top end is removed.
Then the ring is made to fit on the upper part of the nesting
doll and then its lower part can be made. Then the nesting doll's
head is turned and the necessary amount of wood is removed from
within the nesting doll's head to slip on the upper ring. All
these operations do not involve any measurements, and rely only
on intuition and require high professional skills.
The upper part of the nesting doll is stuck on to its lower part.
Then it dries and tightens the ring so it sits securely in place.
When the turning work is over, a snow white doll is thoroughly
cleaned, primed with starchy glue to make the surface ideally
smooth and to prevent the paint making smudges and then dried.
Now it is ready to be painted. The first Russian nesting doll
was poked and painted with gouache and covered with varnish by
S. V. Maliutin.
Early Nesting doll
Posad - the birthplace of the first Russian nesting doll -
was a colorful, truly Russian town. Its Monastery lent a unique
peculiarity to it. The huge market place in front of the Monastery
was almost always full of different people: merchants, monks,
pilgrims and craftsmen were milling around.
The first nesting dolls of Sergiev Posad portrayed this colorful
life: young girls dressed in Russian sarafans
carrying baskets, scythes, bunches of flowers or dressed in winter
short fur coats and scarves;
old believer women in their conservative clothes; a
bride and a bridegroom holding candles in their hands; a shepherd
with a pipe; and old man with a lush beard. At the early period
of Sergiev Posad technique development, along with female
images, male images were made as well.
Sometimes nesting doll represented the whole family with numerous
children and members of household. Some nesting dolls were devoted
to historical themes. They portrayed boyars and their wives, Russian
nobility of the 17th century and legendary Russian bogatyrs
(warriors). Some nesting dolls were devoted to the book
characters. For instance, in 1909 to celebrate the centenary
of Gogol's birth, a series of nesting dolls portrayed the characters
of his books: Taras Bulba, Plyushkin, Governor. In 1912, to celebrate
the centenary of the Patriotic War agains Napoleon nesting dolls
portrayed Kutuzov and Napoleon whose figurines contained smaller
figurines of their field commanders. Some nesting dolls borrowed
their subjects from folk tales and folk heroic sagas: Tsar Dadon
and Princess Swan from Pushkin's tales, 'The
Little Humpbacked Horse' from Yershov's tale, some characters
from Krylov's fable 'The Quartet'.
Nesting Doll Today
Nesting doll, a doll which looks quite simple but full of unexpected
sense, turned out to be the best embodiment of the present time
spirit. Nesting doll as a form of folk
art possesses tremendous potential to convey the deepest sense
of the events developed in space and time. The carnival folk element
which is seen in the nesting doll decoration allows not only to
rise life's eternal issues, but to realize contemporary life in
its everyday and busy form.
For example, there is a whole range of Russian nesting dolls depicting
tsars, Russian and foreign state and public officials. The
nesting dolls portraying modern
politicians have a grotesque style - old tradition appeared
long time ago. For example, a very well known nesting doll-caricature
was painted by V. A. Serov. S. I. Mamontov, V. A. Serov humself,
musicians P. A. Spiro, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov and other participants
of the Mamontovs theatrical performances were represented on this
nesting doll in Turkish costumes.
Almost all political upheavals of the late 1980s and the early
1990s are being represented in the funny caricatures. The political
nesting doll has a very clear 'subordination'. M. S. Gorbachev's
legendary political career during perestroika brought him popularity
in many European and American states. 'Groby' became the most
favorite nesting doll of that time. Stylistically it resembles
'Hetman' a lot. 'Hetman' was a famous nesting doll of the early
20th century from Sergiev Posad. None of the politicians have
escaped this fate - do view our political
nesting dolls selection.
Long time ago at the beginning of the 20th century some painters
tried to use nesting doll as a surface to paint some pictures
on it. It could be either fairy
tale theme or a landscape.
These attempts made in the past helped to develop a new nesting
Its wooden form is used to reproduce this or that theme. Two traditions
in nesting doll painting are linked wit each other: the topicality
of Sergiev Posad painting joins the decorative manner of Nizhny Novgorod. Nesting doll's apron is a traditional
place to feature the major element in the nesting dolls of Nizhny
Novgorod. This particular detail is borrowed by modern toy makers.
Various types of nesting dolls are distinguished by the way their
aprons are painted. For example, some nesting dolls have architectural
monuments on their aprons. Such nesting doll is a wonderful souvenir
which reminds this or that historical place.
Nesting dolls representing Trinity - St. Sergius Monaster, architectural
monuments of the old Russian towns of Vladimir, Suzdal, Novgorod
and other are very popular - see an example of such nesting doll
depicting the Golden
Ring of Russia.
The trend of using decorative elements which are typical for Russian
folk culture traditional centers becomes more and more popular
in the decoration of modern nesting doll. Very often one can see
a nesting doll painted a la Gzhel,
Khokhloma, or Palekh.
Modern nesting doll absorbs in certain ways the treasure of folk
Russian art traditions. Author's nesting dolls are very expressive
and energetic - view an example of exclusive
authors' nesting dolls.
It was quite natural in the late 1980s and early 1990s that many
Russian professional artists and craftsmen earlier deprived by
certain barriers started to paint nesting dolls. This type of
art revealed their energy which has been preserved for a long
time. The nesting dolls painting imbibes all bright, fresh elements
connected with the renewal and the renaissance of Russian society
of the 20th century.
It is possible to say that this time has given the world the new
type of art - Russian author's painted nesting doll which is now
a part of many Russian and Western art collections.
We can see dignity and humility, power and hope for the future,
deep sorrow and boundless hilarity in the Russian painted nesting
Time goes on and the new generations are impressed
by the talent and imagination of the creators of folk and author's
nesting dolls. It is from this source that they derive vital the
power and energy for their own quest and achievements.
Nesting doll is a huge artistic event which requires comprehension.
It is both sculpture and painting, image and soul
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