Maybe you've heard the term matryoshka but aren't sure what it means. Or maybe you've seen them but want to know more about how they are made, their history, or what they signify. Or maybe you are just looking for a place to find unique Russian dolls to buy.
Here I will try to answer as many of your questions about Russian dolls as I can.
What Are Russian Dolls?
Matryoshkas, or nesting dolls, are hollow wooden figurines that are made in varying sizes such that the smaller ones fit inside the bigger ones.
A set of matryoshkas will be a series of these figurines where the smallest doll fits perfectly inside the next smallest doll, continuing until all the dolls can fit inside the largest doll. Each doll 'nests' inside the other dolls until only the largest doll is visible.
All but the smallest doll is split in the middle so that it can be pulled apart, separating the top and bottom of the doll into two parts. Once another doll is placed inside it can then be pushed or snapped back together again. The best dolls have very little visible seam.
Most matryoshkas are intricately painted, with a similar theme being carried across the dolls in each set.
The most common theme tends to be the Babushka, which means grandmother. These are a series where the outermost doll represents the grandmother of the family and each doll inside represents a younger female member of the family, all the way down to the youngest. Each will look similar to the other dolls but will be painted to also be unique in some way.
You might think that a simple theme like this wouldn't be interesting or different, but I find each set to be amazing in its own right. The matryoshka artists always find some new twist or flair to make each set unique and breathtaking.
Other themes include pets or outdoor scenes from the artist's region. More recently Russian dolls are being made using themes from popular culture such as Harry Potter.
Matryoshka is a variation on a few Russian female names that were popular in the early 1900s: Matryona, Matriyosha, Matriona, and Matriosha.
The Latin root of matryoshka is mater which means mother, which of course lends itself to the Babushka theme above.
So you may see them called matryoshkas, or Russian nesting dolls, or sometimes even babushkas, but they all refer to the idea of wooden dolls placed inside each other.
What Is The History Behind Russian Dolls?
Good question! You can read more about their history on the page I put together here:
Where Can I Buy Russian Dolls?
Another good question! Finding good quality Russian nesting dolls can be tough, but I have a page where I talk about my favorite place to find them:
I want to make this a definitive resource on all things matryoshka, so if you have a question I didn't answer here please post it in the comments below and I will do my best to answer it!