Russia: Matryoshka doll

Front view

General description: A set of five female Matryoshka or Russian nesting dolls

Dimensions Largest doll: 14.2 x 6.5 x 6.5 / Smallest doll: 3.5 x 1.3 x 1.3 cm

Date when acquired 1967

Original Date 1967

Source Present from my father bought in Budapest, Hungary. The largest doll is marked with a USSR stamp on her base.


Back view


All five nesting dolls have been carved from light wood, with their features and clothing painted on. The dolls are covered in a clear varnish apart from their bases.



The clothing of each doll consists of a traditional red sarafan peasant dress, decorated with red flowers and green leaves on the front. The shirt (rubakha) has a natural linen colour. Each doll is wearing a yellow headscarf tied under the chin and though married women are not supposed to show their hair, a little of the black hair above the forehead can be seen. The largest doll’s scarf is covered with black spirals, the second largest only has spirals around the edge of the scarf and the smaller dolls have plain scarfs. The second largest doll also has black spirals around the back of her dress.

The largest doll has been exposed to light for 50 years and so her colours have faded in places (the flowers on the front of her dress have completely gone). She also has a chip out of the wood between her eyes which occurred during a move many years ago. The rest of the dolls are in very good condition.


Side view




Background information

A matryoshka doll also known as a Russian nesting doll, or Russian doll, is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. The name “matryoshka” (literally “little matron”) is a diminutive form of the Russian female first name “Matryona” or “Matriosha”. They are often referred to as “babushka dolls”; babushka is the Russian for “grandmother” or “elderly woman” and I was given her in 1967 with this name.

The first Russian nesting doll set was made in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo, a centre for the Slavophile movement and artistic activity in the 19th century. Malyutin’s set consisted of eight dolls — the outermost one was a girl in a traditional dress holding a rooster. The inner dolls were five girls and a boy, while the innermost one was a baby. Savva Mamontov’s wife presented the dolls at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon after, matryoshka dolls were being made in several places in Russia and shipped around the world.

Original doll set carved by Zvezdochkin and painted by Malyutin

Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin were inspired by a doll from Honshu, the main island of Japan. Sources differ in descriptions of the doll, describing it as either a round, hollow daruma doll, portraying a bald old Buddhist monk, or a Seven Lucky Gods nesting doll. The idea for nesting dolls had spread to Japan (in the form of Fukuruma, a doll honouring Fukurokuju, the God of Happiness in Japanese mythology) from China, where they had been made since the 18th century. The idea for such dolls seem to have developed from nesting boxes which the Chinese had been making as early as 1000 CE.

Traditionally, the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan, a long and shapeless traditional Russian peasant dress. The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby turned from a single piece of wood. Much of the artistry is in the painting of each doll, which can be very elaborate. Matryoshka dolls are often designed to follow a particular theme; for instance, peasant girls in traditional dress. Originally, the themes were often drawn from tradition or fairy tale characters, in keeping with the craft tradition—but since the 20th century, they have embraced a larger range, including Soviet leaders.

Source(s) of information

Photograph: Original doll set carved by Zvezdochkin and painted by Malyutin Picture by RK812, Sergiev Posad Museum of Toys, Russia,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s