Matryoshka (in other words — nesting dolls, stacking doll, babushka doll, nested dolls, matrioshka) is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other.
The first Matryoshka doll set was carved in 1890 by Russian craftsman Vasily Zvezdochkin and painted by famous Russian painter Sergey Malyutin in Abramtsevo estate of Savva Mamontov. Those Russian artists were inspired by Japanese nesting doll “Fukuruma” a symbol of wisdom, representing a Buddist monk transformation from a baby to an old man.
The first stacking doll included 8 pieces. The largest represented a peasant girl in brightly colored traditional dress holding a black rooster. The smaller dolls were boys and girls and the smallest was a baby.
The word “Matryoshka” is a diminutive form of Russian female name “Matryona”, which was very common name in 19th century. “Matryona” has a latin root “mater” and means “mother”. Matryoshka became a symbol of Motherhood and Family.
Russian stacking doll won a bronze medal at the “World Exhibition” in 1900 in Paris. Soon after, Matryoshka became widely popular. The toys were being produced in several manufacturing centers, the most famous was Segiev Posad and Semenov.
The basic technique of Matryoshka making remains unchanged and demands a huge amount of time and effort.
Nested dolls are made of wood from lime, alder, aspen, and birch trees; lime is probably the most common wood type. The trees are felled in April when they are full of sap and left to dry for two – three years.
It is essential that the full set of babushka doll be made from one piece of wood. Matryoshka-making begins with the smallest doll—the one is that is a solid piece and cannot be taken apart. This smallest figurine is shaped on a turning lathe first, and her shape and size determine those of all the larger dolls that follow.
At the end each doll is covered with oil-varnish and colored by painters using gouache, tempera or oil. After the paint has dried, the dolls are finished with a protective coating. Wax and varnish are used rarely, and lacquer is the most common finish. For the artistic sets, at least five coats of lacquer are applied.