Do you have a Matryoshka doll in your house?
A matryoshka doll also known as Russian nesting doll, refers to a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. The first Russian nested doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo. Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan, a long and shapeless traditional Russian peasant jumper dress. The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby turned from a single piece of wood. Much of the artistry is in the painting of each doll, which can be very elaborate. The dolls often follow a theme; the themes vary, from fairy tale characters to Soviet leaders.
A set of matryoshkas consist of a wooden figure which separates, top from bottom, to reveal a smaller figure of the same sort inside, which has, in turn, another figure inside of it, and so on. The number of nested figures is traditionally not less than five, but can be much more, up to several dozen with sufficiently fine craftsmanship. Modern dolls often yield an odd number of figures but this is not an absolute rule; the original Zvyozdochkin set, for instance, had an even number. The form is approximately cylindrical, with a rounded top for the head, tapering toward the bottom, with few or no protruding features; the dolls have no hands (except those that are painted). Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan. The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby lathed from a single small piece of wood (and hence non-opening). The artistry is in the painting of each doll, which can be extremely elaborate.
The word “matryoshka” (матрёшка), literally “little matron”, is a diminutive form of the Russian female first name “Matryona” (Матрёна).
The original matryoshka set by Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin, 1892
The first Russian nested doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter in the Abramtsevo estate of Savva Mamontov, a Russian industrialist and patron of arts. The doll set was painted by Malyutin. Malyutin’s doll set consisted of eight dolls—the outermost was a girl in a traditional dress holding a rooster. The inner dolls were girls and a boy, and the innermost a baby.
Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin were inspired by a doll from Honshu, the main island of Japan. Sources differ in descriptions of the doll, describing it as either a round, hollow daruma doll or a fukuruma nesting doll, portraying a portly bald old Buddhist monk.
Savva Mamontov’s wife presented the dolls at the Exposition Universelle (1900) in Paris, where the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon after, matryoshka dolls were being made in several places in Russia and shipped around the world.
Several Russian politicians depicted in matryoshka form.
Matryoshka dolls are often designed to follow a particular theme, for instance, peasant girls in traditional dress. Originally themes often drew from tradition or fairy tale characters in keeping with the craft tradition, but since the 20th century, they have embraced a larger range, including Soviet leaders.
Modern artists create many new styles of nesting dolls. Common themes include floral, Christmas, Easter, religious, animal collections, portraits and caricatures of famous politicians, musicians, athletes, astronauts, “robots,” and popular movie stars. Matryoshka dolls that featured communist leaders of Russia became very popular among Russian people in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, some Russian artists specialize in painting themed matryoshka dolls that feature specific categories of subjects, people or nature. Areas with notable matryoshka styles include Sergiyev Posad, Semionovo (now the town of Semyonov), Polkhovsky Maidan, and Kirov.
During Perestroika, the leaders of the Soviet Union became a common theme of matryoshkas. The largest, outside figure was that of Mikhail Gorbachev, followed by Leonid Brezhnev (Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko almost never appear due to the short length of their respective terms), Nikita Khrushchev, Josef Stalin and finally the smallest, Vladimir Lenin. Newer versions start with Dmitry Medvedev and then follow with Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin. Some include Medvedev, Putin, Yeltsin, Gorbachev, Brezhnev, Khrushchev, Stalin, Lenin, and finally Czar Nicholas II, a total of 9 dolls.
Matryoshkas are used metaphorically, as a design paradigm, known as the “matryoshka principle” or “nested doll principle”. It denotes a recognizable relationship of “object-within-similar-object” that appears in the design of many other natural and crafted objects. Examples of this use include the Matrioshka brain and the Matroska media-container format.
The “matryoshka principle” is also an example of Mise-en-abyme. Compare with Fractal also.
The onion metaphor is of similar character. If the outer layer is peeled off an onion, a similar onion exists within. This structure is employed by designers in applications such as the layering of clothes or the design of tables, where a smaller table nests within a larger table, and a smaller one within that.
See also: onion routing
The Matroska (MKV) multimedia container format derives its name from Matryoshka, alluding to the container being able to hold many different types of content streams.
The dolls are constructed from one block of wood in order to create a proper fit; different pieces of wood would have unique expansion-contraction characteristics and moisture content. Production involves use of a turning lathe, along with various woodcarving knives and chisels. First, the smallest doll (which cannot be taken apart) is made on a turning lathe, and its size and shape will determine that of the larger dolls. Next, the bottom and top halves of the next doll are made separately, with a ring on the bottom made to fit into an inset on the top portion. The upper part is placed on the lower half and allowed to dry, which tightens the ring to its upper fitting to ensure the halves will close securely. No measurements are made during this process; sizing to fit is done by eye. After all the dolls are made, they are treated, painted, and coated, before nesting them inside one another.