Russian Matryoshka


The word "Matryoshka" is among the top 5 words strongly associated with Russia. Only a few Russian words were borrowed by the languages of the world unchanged; Matryoshka is one of them. Despite the fact that the word is hard to pronounce, different spellings can be met in English texts: "Matrioshka", "Matreshka", "Matreoschka" or even "Matrushka". At the same time, there are other references to Matryoshkas: babushka dolls or nesting dolls. But how are nesting dolls made and what do Matryoshka dolls represent?



Matryoshka goes further than 125 years back. The first Matryoshka appeared in the late 19th century near Moscow. 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.




The Fukurama figurine was brought to Russia by Elizaveta Mamontova, wife of a major industrialist, entrepreneur and patron Savva Mamontov, from her travel to the island of Honshu. At the end of that century, the turner Vasily Zvezdochkin machined and artist Sergei Malyutin painted a wooden image of a beautiful woman on the first Russian doll holding the name “Matryoshka”.


The new doll was given the name Matrona, which was one of the most popular female names in Russia of those years. This name derived from the Latin word "mater" (mother) and was considered appropriate for a mother of a large family.


The first Matryoshka doll, which has since then become a symbol of motherhood, was painted under the image of a simple peasant girl in a sundress with an apron and a kerchief on her head. Till now Matryoshka symbolizes the continuation of life.


The industrial production of Matryoshka soon began at the Moscow toy factory. First Matryoshkas consisted of 8 figures, embedded into each other, alternating girls and boys. Each figure was different from another, and the last one was a tiny figure of a swaddled baby, thus representing the entire family with kids of different age.




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