Can you guess where the word Matryoshka come from? Have you ever heard this word before? Probably not, unless of course you are from Russia. For Matryoshka is a Russian word and Matryoshka Dolls refers to the traditional nesting dolls given to children as toys.
What are Matryoshka Dolls?
Matryoshka dolls are also known as nestlings dolls or mostly commonly Russian dolls. These hand carved wooden dolls have been given as gifts or provided as toys and entertainment for hundreds of years in Russia and as times have changed Matryoshka dolls have too.
Although now in 2017 many children do not appreciate or find fun in playing with wooden dolls Matryoshka dolls are still a very prevalent part of Russian culture and history. There are a great many people who avidly collect Matryoshka dolls and display them in their homes.
The rest record of Matryoshka or nesting dolls dates back to 1890 in the children’s education section of Sava Mamontov’s woodwork workshop in Abramtsevo outside of Moscow.
Why are they called Matryoshka?
The word Matryoshka is derived from the popular Russian womens name Matriona. Language analysts say that this name has ties to the latin root of the word ‘mater’ meaning mother. Traditionally these dolls are all painted differently with the outer-most doll being depicted as a mother figure.
More than anything the word Matryoshka became the popular name for such dolls as resultantly stuck through the ages.
Sergiev Posad and Matryoshka
Sergiev Posad was the small town outside Moscow where the first studio in which Matryoshka dolls were mass produced. Bare in mind that this was at the end of the 19th century so even though they were produced of mass they were still created, carved and painted by hand.
To the day Matryoshka are made in the town of Sergiev Posad and for keen collectors of dolls this is the place to visit to complete the collection.
When we think of Russian dolls we think of brightly coloured and ornately detailed dolls but this was not always the case. In those initial decades of production details were given to the faces of the dolls but not the clothes.
These dolls were typically designed around peasant families and so the clothes, if depicted at all, were very basic and simple.
In the first Matryoshka dolls featured enlarged facial features that took up the majority of the front of the doll. These looked disproportionate but when you lined all seven of the nesting dolls out it looks more normal.
All the originally Matryoshka dolls were hand painted with love, care and attention. To this day there are still artists who practice this specific skill.
Some Matryoshka are designed to represent whole families including children and the house’s staff too in more affluent families. In the more modern day Matryoshka dolls have been painted to look like animals, celebrities and cartoon characters too.
Some Matryoshka dolls tell the stories of old Russian noblemen know as boyars or folklore wartime legends known as bogatirs.
Are Matryoshka Only Ever Women?
Many of the Matryoshka dolls that we see today only depict women but traditionally these wooden statues represented men too. There are many ethnographic groups that feature on Matryoshka dolls.
Gypsy women are a common depiction on Russian dolls as well as Eskimos who are also known as Samoyed.
Semionovo Nestling Dolls
If Sergiev Posad created the Russian dolls then Semionovo changed the game. Semionovo is a wooden craft hub in Russia thanks to the acres upon acres of thick forest providing ample wood to chop to use for art and architecture.
Semionovo is famous the world over for its furniture made of wood, children’s toy and naturally Matryoshka dolls too.
Unlike Matryoshka dolls in other parts of Russia, Matryoshka dolls in Semionovo have a much simpler design. The craftsmen of Semionovo use aniline dyes to paint and as such there are lost of areas on each doll that get left unpainted or empty.
All Matryoshka dolls made in Semionovo will feature an apron. The apron is considered the integral feature of the painting design and is often covered in intricate flower patterns.
How to make a Matryoshka?
If you are an artist or you are feeling inspired by these outstanding works of craftsmanship then perhaps you want to try your hand at making your own Matryoshka dolls?
It is possible to buy blank, unpainted and unvarnished Matryoshka dolls online to paint yourself at home. This saves the time trying to learn how to craft wood and gets you straight to the fun bit!
Then it comes to the painting. This is the fun part but first you want to decide if you want to go free style or follow a traditional design. There are loads of tutorials and videos on Youtube that will take you through the process step by step.
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matryoshka nesting dolls