Matryoshka dolls: The story behind the nesting Russian dolls

When we travel, a most of us will bring home a small souvenir to remind us of our time away. One of the most popular souvenirs bought by tourists in Russia are Russian nesting dolls, or matryoshka dolls.

Matryoshka dolls

Credit: Marcos Leal

Russian nesting dolls aren’t really that old. The first was designed by a crafts painter called Sergey Malutin, and carved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin in 1890. Sergey was a painter for the Abramtsevo estate, which was owned by a famous Russian entrepreneur, Savva Mamontov. The first doll set included eight dolls, the outer doll wore traditional dress and held a rooster, the inner dolls were girls and one boy, and the smallest represented a baby.

It is believed that Zvyozdochkin and Malutin got the idea from a Japanese nesting doll. Although the idea was similar, Zvyozdochkin and Malutin decided to put a Russian spin on the concept, with the dolls wearing traditional Russian outfits.

Matryoshka dolls

Credit: Tinou Bao

Savva Mamontov’s wife thought the dolls were brilliant (which they were), and decided to take them to the Exposition Universelle in 1900. This event was a world fair held in Paris to show off new ideas for the future, and to celebrate all that had been achieved in the previous century. The dolls won a bronze award, but they became really popular soon after, showing that you don’t always need to win gold to succeed!

Traditionally, Russian nesting dolls are painted as women in folk costumes and with scarfs on their head, which are associated with fertility and motherhood. Modern Russian craftsmen paint the dolls in more non-traditional styles, such as animals, politicians, celebrities and athletes.

Enjoyed this post? Share it

About Helen Winslade

Helen Winslade

My fondest holiday memories so far are from when I travelled to Rome. Once I made it to the hotel, I chucked my bags on the bed and just went out for a walk, and my first stop was a restaurant (naturally, I love food). The food in Italy is amazing. Even if you just have a pizza, it tastes so much better out there. I won’t even go into how much I loved the ice cream because words cannot do it justice.

We went on a lot of tours while we were out there, but the one that stands out has to be Vatican City. It was one of those tours where you didn’t really listen to much of what your tour guide said, because you were too busy looking at everything and taking all the amazing things in. I took pictures of everything, even down to the floor tiles just because I didn’t want to forget anything.

Helen used to work in our marketing team

Places mentioned in this post

, , , ,

Leave a Reply