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The terms matryoshka doll, babushka doll, and Russian nesting doll all refer to the same item. The feature that makes a matryoshka doll unique is that the doll actually consists of many dolls nested within one another. All but the smallest doll have a top and a bottom half that come apart to reveal the next smaller doll. One matryoshka doll may consist of up to 20 dolls. They are a symbol of Russia and of the Russian culture, but have become popular worldwide.
The matryoshka doll was originally created to be a child's toy, but the creation of these dolls has become an art form. The first doll is said to have been created in 1890 in New Moscow. The largest doll of this kind was created in 1970, was 3.2 feet (about 1 meter) tall, and consisted of 72 nested dolls.
The most common design for this kind of doll is that of a woman wearing a Russian costume. The matryoshka doll normally represents a mother since the word "matryoshka" is derived from the Latin word "mater," meaning mother. Matryoshka dolls are considered symbols of fertility and of motherhood, as each "mother" contains a "daughter" who, in turn, becomes a "mother" as well.
Matryoshka dolls are manufactured from wood, and lime wood seems to be the most common. Other kinds of wood used are balsa, alder, birch, and aspen. The size and source of the wood generally dictate the size of the doll because a matryoshka doll has to be made from a single piece of wood. This ensures that if the wood contracts or expands, the dolls will still fit inside each other.
The craftsmen who manufacture these dolls have to be very skilled. It is the norm for no measurements to be taken during the manufacturing process. The dolls are made by turning on a lathe, and the only additional tools used are chisels and knives. In the past, the skill of the turner was determined by the thickness of the matryoshka's shells, the thinner the shell, the greater his or her skill.
Once the turning process is complete, the dolls are oiled to prevent cracking and are then painted with a starch-based glue. The glue not only seals the wood but also acts as a primer when the dolls are painted. Initially, opaque, water-based paint was used to paint the designs, but today, the paint used is similar to the paint artists use on canvas. The designs also vary from one artist to the next, and matryoshka dolls can feature the traditional Russian woman, characters from fairy tales, or even religious figures.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Matryoshka doll and where does it originate from?
A Matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nesting doll, is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. The first Matryoshka was created in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and painted by Sergey Malyutin in Russia. The concept is thought to symbolize fertility and motherhood, reflecting the traditional Russian peasant family with numerous children.
How are Matryoshka dolls made?
Matryoshka dolls are traditionally made from soft woods like linden or birch, which are seasoned for several years before craftsmen turn them on a lathe. The process involves hollowing out each doll from a single block of wood, except for the smallest one, which is solid. After shaping, the dolls are painted with vibrant colors and often feature detailed depictions of Russian folk themes, floral patterns, or fairy tale characters.
What do the designs on Matryoshka dolls represent?
The designs on Matryoshka dolls often represent traditional Russian peasant attire and may include floral motifs, which are common in Russian folk art. The dolls can also depict fairy tales, historical figures, or scenes from Russian village life. Each artist brings their own creativity to the dolls, making them unique pieces of art that reflect Russian cultural heritage.
How many dolls are typically in a Matryoshka set?
The number of dolls in a Matryoshka set can vary, but a traditional set usually contains seven or eight dolls. However, sets can range from as few as three to over twenty dolls nested inside one another. The largest Matryoshka set on record contained 51 dolls, according to the Guinness World Records.
Can Matryoshka dolls be considered valuable collectibles?
Yes, Matryoshka dolls can be valuable collectibles, especially those that are handcrafted, antique, or made by renowned artists. The value of a Matryoshka doll depends on factors such as age, artistry, complexity, and condition. Collectors often seek out dolls with exceptional craftsmanship and unique designs, and some vintage sets can fetch high prices at auctions or from antique dealers.