The Matryoshka is hiding something

Matryochska or Russian dolls or even nesting dolls, an essential symbol of Russia and yet the story of this wooden doll started elsewhere.

Matryochska, diminutive of Matriona, a very popular first name at the time, embodies fertility and motherhood. No wonder, because the larger doll contains smaller and smaller versions, like a mother moving along with her kids.

On the other hand, did you know that the story of this good wooden woman began in Japan? And yes! At the time, the late 1890s, the Orient was fashionable in Russia. It is a famous patron, Savva Mamontov, who will bring back from Japan a figurine which represented the Shichi-fuku-jin “Seven Divinities of Happiness”. Thus Sergei Malioutine, a popular craftsman, was inspired by it to create a Russian version in one of the Mamontov workshops dedicated to the fabrication of articles for children. He will therefore be known as the father of these little toys.

The ancestor of Russian dolls. Source Japan Travel

When Mamontov’s wife presented the figurines at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the popularity of nesting dolls increased. The models will then win the bronze medal which will mark the beginning of a long history for these figurines as Ambassadors of Russia. A manifestation of the perfect mastery of craftsmanship: woodturning.

The Matryoshka: toy or souvenir item?

Indeed, this toy originally designed in a workshop that made infantile items requires skill. Thus, the nested dolls served as an educational support allowing the development of logic and motor skills for the little ones.

However, one cannot ignore the cultural aspect of the object. The traditional Matryoshka represents a robust woman heavily made-up, with her colorful peasant scarf. You learn in school that she symbolizes “the Russian character, the Russian soul, the basic Russian values: motherhood, family, collectivism, unity and human warmth.” It is with pride that every Russian household has at least one set of Matryoshka.

The Matryoshka: return to its roots?

Yet it is on the Asian continent that we find the largest Matryochka which welcomes visitors from the top of its 30 meters! The Matryoshka Square located in Manzhouli, on the Russian-Chinese border exhibits a collection of 200 life-size Russian dolls which each house restaurants, shops or hotels. An impressive setting that now links 3 nations around a story that brings us all together: that of a caring mother!

Photo credit: Russia Beyond website

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