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Russian nesting doll (synonyms - nested doll, stacking doll) or matryoshka as it is sounded in Russian - probably, the most popular Russian national souvenir. The wide fame was won by Russian matryoshka (nesting doll) far abroad. At all large exhibitions, fairs, the festivals held in different counties of the world, amusing cheerful nesting dolls were most fascinating exhibits. Also it seems, that matroyshka nesting doll has come to us from a gray-haired antiquity, from the world of legends and fairy tales. Actually this wooden doll is about hundred years.
Although nesting doll (matryoshka) is famous all over the world it is hard to find books about this phenomena. Have a look at sites dedicated to Russian souvenirs and you will see that all stories about nesting dolls are quite contradictory. The reason is that authors of sites did not have good materials on this subject. I suppose that this page will add some understanding of nesting doll roots and history.
1. The very beginning of Russian matryoshka
The first Russian nesting doll (matryoshka) was born in 1890 in the workshop "Children's Education" situated in Abramtsevo estate new Moscow. The owner of Abramtsevo was Sava Mamontov - industrialist and a patron of the arts.
The first Russian nesting doll!
The end of the 19 century in Russia was a time of great economic and cultural development. Mamontov was one of the first who patronized artist who were possessed by the idea of the creation of a new Russian style. Many famous Russian artists worked along with folk craftsmen in workshops Mamontov.
7-piece matryoshka "Fukuruma", Japan. Late 1890s
Once at a tradition Saturday meeting somebody brought a funny Japanese figurine of a good-nature bold head old man Fukuruma. The doll consisted of some other figurines nestled one another. It had 7 figurines. There was a legend that the first doll of such type on Island Honshu where Fukuruma was brought from was made by unknown Russian monk.
Really, this type of nesting toys was well known before - Russian crafters turned wooden Easter eggs, apples.
2. Why it is called "Matryoshka"
Russian wooden dolls within smaller dolls were called matryoshka. In old Russian among peasants the name Matryona or Matriosha was a very popular female name. Scholars says this name has a Latin root "mater" and means "Mother". This name was associated with the image of of a mother of a big peasant family who was very healthy and had a portly figure.
Subsequently, it became a symbolic name and was used specially to image brightly painted wooden figurines made in a such way that they could taken apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another.
3. Sergiev Posad style of Russian nesting dolls
Sergiev Posad was a place where the first nesting doll was made by artist Sergei Maliutin and a turner Vassiliy Zviozdochkin. This old Russian town is located 73 km (about 45 miles) from Moscow. It has grown up around famous Trinity-St.Sergius Monastery. In 1340 the monk Sergius founded a small temple lost in the midst of the wild thick forests. In time it was developed into the biggest monastery of Russia.
Arts and crafts were flourished in the towns and villages who surrounded the monastery. Wooden toys, which were known as "Trinity" toys, became particularly popular. According to the legend the first "Trinity" wooden toy was made by the Prior of the Monastery, Sergius Radonezhsky.
Sergiev Posad was a colorful, truly Russian town. The Monastery lent a unique peculiarity to it. The huge marketplace in front of the Monastery was almost always full of different people: merchants, monks, pilgrims and craftsmen were milling around.
"An old man", 8-p. matryoshka, beginning of 20 century

Professional artist made the first painted matryoshka of Sergiev Posad just for fun. That is why these dolls are so expressive and won admiration of adults and children. In the initial period of matryoshka development particularly attention was paid to faces of matryoshka, clothes were not detailed painted. Such dolls depicted different character and types: peasants, merchants, and noblemen.
The faces of the early matryoshkas of Sergiev Posad were oval and strict. The heads of many matryoshkas were greatly enlarged that's why the face dominated the body. These dolls look primitive because of this
"Getman", 8-p. doll, beginning of 1900.
disproportion but at the same time they are very expressive. The first politic matryoshka, the prototype of famous "Gorbi doll", was born in that time. Matryoshkas like "German" (German was a political leader Governor of old time Ukraine, which was a part of Russian Empire) gave a soil to artist to design modern politic dolls.
Sometimes matryoshka portrayed the whole family with numerous children and members of households. Some matryoshkas were devoted to historical themes. The described boyars (old Russia noblemen), legendary heroes bogatirs (warriors), some dolls were devoted to book character.

 turnip", Matryoshka "The tale about 8-p., beginning of 20 century.
The matryoshka of Sergiev Posad consisted of 2 to 24 pieces. The most popular dolls consisted of 3, 8 and 12 pieces. In 1913 a 48-pieces matryoshka made by N. Bulichev was displayed at the Exhibition of Toys in St. Petersburg.
Development of matryoshka greatly depended on turners' skill. Highly skilled masters turned matryoshkas with very thin sides, which was considered to be a special art of matryoshka turning. Apparently, painting was secondary. Professional artists who painted the first turned dolls did not treat it seriously enough. It was sort of entertainment. There are some matryoshkas - caricatures in the Museum Estate Polenovo. From other hand there were many independent workshops of Sergiev Posad
Where skilled artisans worked and they crated their own style of Russian matryoshka. Folk art tradition was very important in the development of the present Sergiev Posad style. Due to widest layer of folk culture, matryoshka continued to exist even after Russian style, developed by Russian professional artists was forgotten. Icon painters of Sergiev Posad contributed a lot to matryoshka pictorial style. Anthropomorphism, in other words, resemblance to a human being of the Russia "take apart" dolls turned out to be the continuation of ancient Russian art tradition. An artist focused mainly on the figure of a person, his or her face.
This tradition of Russian ancient art came from Byzantine Empire, which had borrowed it from ancient Greek culture. The connection of certain early type of the matryoshkas of Sergiev Posad with the tradition of the local icon painting school is confirmed both stylistically and virtually. Along with the icons, matryoshkas were painted as well in the icon painting school of Sergiev Posad.
Porked (burned) nesting doll, 5-p., 1990-s.
Initially matryoshka types were rather different: they portrayed both male and female characters. There are some ethnographic matryoshkas: Samoyed (Eskimo), Gypsy Woman, American Man, Turk, Chinese, Lithuanians, and Tartar Family, Ukrainian and so on. Gradually female character became the main type of matryoshkas. The tradition of making special matryoshka proportion (1:2, that is ration between a matryoshka's width and height) were worked out.
Larisa Soloviova, an author of a great book about Russian matryoshkas divided development of this type of dolls into three periods:
1) 1890 -1930-s
2) 1930-s - beginning 1990s
3) Beginning of 1990-s till this time.
The first period contributed us the first matryoshka and created a wide verity of different types of dolls.
In 1918 the unique Museum of Russian and Foreign Toys was opened in Sergiev Posad. The first Russian matryoshka by S. Maliutin is a part of its exhibition. Soon afterwards the Toys Research Institute was organized there as well. The remarkable samples of toys were created in this institute including 42 pieces matryoshka. 60- pieces nesting doll is consider being the biggest one among the matryoshkas of Sergiev Posad. It was made in 1967.
The matryoshka of Sergiev Posad has its own peculiarities: its top part flows smoothly into thicker lower part: it is painted with gouache and has a varnish surface. In spite of, or perhaps because of the popularity of the matryoshkas of Sergiev Posad, matryoshka-making center started to spring up in Russia.
4. Semionovo matryoshka
Semionovo is a large old center of wooden handicrafts. Huge thick forests, soil that is not good for agriculture, big outlet provided development of local people crafts. Of course, many changes occurred during long history of crafts in Semionovo but even now about 200 items are produced in factories and privately in this region, 33 countries import goods from this small town.
Semionovo is famous for its wooden painted tableware, wooden toys and, of course, matryoshkas. The first mention about this settlement goes as far as 1644. There is a legend that Semionovo was founded by merchant Semion and a run-a-way monk from Solovky monastery. In 1779 in time of Catherine the Second 3000 inhabitants lived and worked in this place. As the town was surrounded by forests people used to make goods of wood for themselves and for sale. Some crafters made for their children and just for fun wooden toys, with time it became a profitable business.
The first matryoshka in Semionovo was made well known by his wooden utensils, rattles, balls and apples Arsenty Mayorov.
Arsenty Mayorov
In 1924 he brought from the fair in Nizhny Novgorod unpainted nesting doll. His elder daughter Luba painted it using ordinary goose feather and aniline dyes, which were used for painting of toys. Almost 20 years matryoshka made by Mayorov were the best in the area of Nizhny Novgorod. In 1931 an artel which made souvenirs including matryoshkas was established in Semionovo.
Blossom of Semionovo toy
Gradually a distinct matryoshka type of Semionovo was developed. It was more decorative and symbolic than the matryoshka from Sergiev Posad. Semionovo's tradition goes back to the traditions of ancient Russia.
The painters of Semionovo used aniline dyes; they left quite a lot of unpainted space and varnished dolls. First of all, light touches of the brush mark the outlines of the face, eyes, the lines of the lips and apply color to the cheeks. Then a skirt, an apron, a scarf on the matryoshka's head and hands are drawn.
An apron is considered to be the main thing in painting of Semionovo. A bright bouquet of flowers is painted on it. It is possible to recognize the technique of old Russian masters. The early matryoshkas of Semionovo were more in the spirit of old Russian painting traditions, the lines were more graphic and lighter. It is easy to recognize a typical Semionovo shape of wooden form of matryoshka. It is slender and has a relatively thin top, which widens sharply into a thick bottom.              
The matryoshka of Semionovo are famous for containing many pieces. 
 matryoshka contained The biggest72 pieces; it was 1 m high and had a diameter. This unique doll was made in 1970 and was dedicated to birthday of Soviet communist leader Lenin.
The bigest matryoshka
It cost 3000 rubles (it worth saying that a popular Soviet car cost in that time 5,000 rubles. The doll was sent to exhibition in Japan.
In the 80-s artists from Semionovo developed new types of matryoshkas Artist Serov designed new matryoshka "The Father Frost and Snegurotchka". This matryoshka was so designed that children could learn to count: inside a big "mother" 10 small was hidden.
 In this time the Chief Artist Sorokin has created a couple of dolls-case "Russian Lad" and "Russian Beauty".
They were in cosmic flight
This couple was taken in cosmic flight in 29 June 1982 by Russian astronauts and was gifted to international crew.
Present time            
Now Semionovo matryoshka has not the best time. The complex economic situation in mirrors at these crafts too: it's harder to buy raw materials, fuel and electricity became more Russia expensive. In these condition it hard to create something new, people instead of wage in money get just ready goods: matryoshkas, wooden spoons, wooden tableware. It press people to leave a factory and to work separately at home. Maybe it is hard in the beginning but in such conditions can be born new ideas, types, goods - there are more to room for creative activity.
We sincerely hope that Semionovo matryoshka will blossom soon and will expose us new unusual things.
5. Polkholvsky Maidan nesting dolls
Polkhovsky Maidan located to the south-west of Nizhny Novgorod, is a motherland of another style of matryoshka. The river Polkhovka in old times was wide and big, it was surrounded by forests- that is why people choose this place to settle a new village. Now Polkhovka became a small stream meanwhile the village turned into a center of crafts.
The first matryoshka was made in Polkhovsky Maidan in 1930-s, as other goods in that time the doll was made by poker work.
Typical Maidan woodwork.
Wooden workmanship was an old tradition in Maidan. Any toys were made on turning lather: samovars, birds, money-box, salt-cellars and apples. . The craftsmen of Polkhovsky Maidan like the craftsmen of Semionovo use aniline dyes. The matryoshkas were pasted over, brightly painted before being coated with varnish. The colors of the matryoshkas of Polkhovsky Maidan are brighter and more expressive than the colors of the matryoshkas of Semionovo, their ornaments are bigger as well.
Green, blue, yellow, violet and crimson colors are used to contrast each other, to make an expressive and bright orna-ment. Richness of color is achieved by superim-posing one layer of dye on another.
Pokhovsky Maidan matryoshka, 5 p. set.
The matryoshkas of Polkhovsky Maidan are manufactured in the peasant primitive style which resembles children's drawings. It is a typical village beauty with knitted brows and a face framed in black locks. The ringlets of hair are a genuine element of local women's headdress.
Older women covered their hair with kokoshniks, young girls used ribbons. Black drake's feathers were stuck in their headdresses. The painters of Polkhovsky Maidan as the painters of Semionovo paid their special attention to floral ornament of matryoshkas' aprons. They ignored other details of a matryoshka's costume. Dog-rose with many petals is the main ele-ment of apron painting. This flower is always considered to be the symbol of femininity, love and motherhood.
This flower is a part of each composition of the craftsmen of Polkhovsky Maidan. Sometimes this theme is developed and a painter adds to the main rose its buds on the branches.
6. Matryoshka in Soviet time
History of matryoshka can be divided into tree periods: 1) 1890 –1930-s
2) 1930-s – beginning 1990s
3) Beginning of 1990-s till this time.
The first period gave us the first Russian matryoshka and developed a lot of new types which were put onto base of modern matryoshkas. Blossom of matryoshkas' types was interrupted by construction of socialism in the USSR. Why? The Soviet Government paid much attention to construction of factories, which produced goods of people crafts! Yes, this is right. The main problem is in it. Hand-made goods can not be made in factories – they are not mass production items. A few matryoshka’s types were developed for factory production: Semionovo type, Sergiev Posad type, Kirov (Viatka) type and some other.
Private making of matryoshkas and production of other hand crafted things was forbidden in the USSR – craftsmen had to work at the factories where was no possibility neither to earn enough money for their labor (rates were quite low as at other state enterprises) nor to show their art abilities (goods had to be simple enough for mass production).
I remember a story of old crafter from Polkhovsky Maidan about work in Soviet time. Those who did not work at the factory were not allowed to use home lathes for turning, electricity was “cut down”. Militia and representatives of power controlled road and railway stations to prevent possibility to carry to other regions of the country ready handicrafts to sell . Nevertheless people produced their own goods and brought them to different regions of the Soviet Union: Far East, North regions, South and Central Asia Republics.
It was easier to work at the factories of Semionovo where many new types of wooden toys were created. These toys (and matryoshkas among them) were exported to many countries of the world. In spite of that all things are too similar, they look like each other and they lack worm of hand made goods.
The same happened with Sergiev Posad matryoshkas. In 1920s the matryoshka makers artel “Artisan-Artist” was rename “The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army Artel” that in 1928 became toy factory #1. The period of free work has finished. Some simple types of dolls were produced at the factory. It is necessary to say that there were some people who created and painted original matryoshkas but it was not typical. Such matryoshka were bought by private collectors and now are quite rare.
In the beginning of 1990s when old economic system was destroying artists and talented artisans gained a freedom for creation of new type of matryoshkas and other crafts.
7. Other styles of matryoshkas
During the Soviet time many factories all over the country made nesting dolls. In time of planning economy when some wise guys from Gosplan (it would mean The State Planning Comity) decided that it would be nice to make as many matryoshkas as possible in order each person on the Earth could get his/her own matryoshkas That is why nesting dolls were made in Moldavia (South part of the USSR), in the Ukraine, in Caucuses republics (???), in Bashkiria, Karelia and many other places. Nobody was interested that it was impossible to bring together with tools and wood mastery of people and their skill. Without native traditions matroyshka lost its charm and became an ordinary wooden toy, very primitive and simple.
The only place where matryoshka found its new home was Kirov -the old city with deep root and traditions of wooden making. Now Kirov matryoshka has its own style and still is made at the factory.
8. Modern matryoshka nesting dolls
There is a wide variety of Russian nesting dolls which produced at present time. Beside traditional nesting dolls painted in Sergiev Posad style, it is possible to find many diffrent in the e-net.
9. About christmas in Russia :
Thirteen days after Western Christmas, on January 7-th, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. It's a day of both solemn ritual and joyous celebration. After the 1917 Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious celebrations.


It was replaced by the New Year's celebration that includes the most Christmas attributes such as Santa Claus and Christmas tree. A character called "Grandfather Frost" (known as "Ded Moroz" in Russia) was introduced. The Grandfather Frost looked very much like the western "Santa Claus". He was considered the Russian Spirit of Winter who brought gifts on New Year's. He was always accompanied by Snyegurochka, the Snow maiden, who helped distribute the gifts. There were many traditions Matryoshka theme dolls.
It wasn't until 75 years later, in 1992, that the holiday was openly observed. Today, it's once again celebrated in grand fashion, with the faithful participating in an all-night Mass in incense-filled Cathedrals amidst the company of the painted icons of Saints.
Christmas is one of the most joyous traditions for the celebration of Eve comes from the Russian tradition. On the Eve of Christmas, it is traditional for all family members to gather to share a special meal. The various foods and customs surrounding this meal differed in Holy Russia from village to village and from family to family, but certain aspects remained the same.

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