The matryoshka doll, also known as the Russian nesting doll, is often painted and made out of wood. It consists of a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size. The doll typically follows the “object within a similar object” or onion metaphor by placing the smaller doll inside the larger doll. The image painted on the doll is traditionally of a Babushka, which means motherly figure; this is where it derives its name. Another image that is typically painted is that of a peasant woman. This babushka or peasant woman are drawn wearing a head scarf, also called sarafan, and a long and shapeless peasant jumper dress. Which is the traditional dress for Russia. The centre and smallest doll is generally a baby wrapped up in cloth.
The artwork can also range from very simple to very elaborate. Although public perception is that of the head-scarf-wearing woman figure, matryoshka dolls are not limited in theme or gender. Other subjects include: animals, Christmas objects, music, films, sports, fairy tales, popular culture figures, political leaders, and males in general.
The very first Russian matryoshka archetype is said to have appeared at the end of the nineteenth-century. Russia was having an interesting period of economic and cultural development, as well as a rising sense of national identity. Artists like S.I. Mamontov (1841-1918) used folk toys from local regions or foreign countries to express this new art movement. It is thought that the idea of the matryoshka doll came from Japan on the island of Honshu, and that the idea for the doll was adapted to fit the needs of the toy makers. However, there are other stories behind the creation of the first Russian matryoshka doll.
The dolls seen here are owned by Irina Glazkova, who came from Russia to Canada in 2007 in order to attend Memorial University. Her collection of Matryoshka dolls was given to her as a present from a friend who returned from a trip to Russia. Irina told me how she grew up with the dolls and how different regions of Russia have taken the doll and recreated and or adapted it to fit their own style.
Irina: Matryoshka dolls became an integral part of society. Differences are based on colour and ornaments. I played with them since I can remember. In addition, me and my mom would also make up stories about them.
Photos taken by Christina Robarts Jan. 20, 2013, of a Matryoshka doll (Russian nesting doll) owned by Irina Glazkova
Source: Soloviova, L.N. 1997. Matryoshka. Slovenia: Interbook Business.