Matryoshka Russian Dolls: Symbolism and Meaning of Motherhood

Opening a set of Russian dolls is great fun. You open one and admire the artwork and then you keep going on until you get the smallest doll.

The traditional designs and the intricate detailing on dolls are the epitomai of beauty. However, Did you know what they symbolize?

The Russian Matryoshka doll, also called a nesting doll, is perhaps the best-known symbol of Russia around the world. The doll wasn’t called Matryoshka, but Matrona, which originated from the Latin word “mater,” meaning mother. The name uncovers the true meaning of the doll – a symbol of motherhood and the continuation of life.

Symbolism of dolls

The first sets of Matryoshkas alternated in the gender and design of each toy with the last figurine depicting a baby in diapers. The Matryoshkas would represent a whole family with children of different ages.

Matryoshka is made of different dolls. The biggest doll is called “mother”, the smallest one is called the seed.

Originally the biggest doll represents a strong female matriarch who is the main symbol of the Russian family. In itself, the doll fits inside little dolls which represent daughters and sons.

For this reason, Matryoshka represents fertility and motherhood. The big doll represents the Russian mother, and in itself, she hosts children, women, and men, but also feels pain, happiness, and joy. It is a mother who can host all these things.

Matryoshka can represent also our life: we are like a big doll with other dolls inside which represent our stories, relationships, and experiences. 

We are people with different experiences. The seed represents our soul which is innocent and it is the real essence of ourselves.

History 

The special toy has been around for 125 years, with the first set of dolls appearing near Moscow in the late 19th century. However, the doll originated in Japan.

The ancestor of this toy is believed to be the Japanese sage Fukurama, a nesting doll portraying a good-natured old man with a disproportionately big head. 

The Japanese figurine contained only four identical figurines inside, whereas Matryoshkas are averagely stacked up of eight.

The Japanese figurine was discovered by Elizaveta Mamontova, wife of an industrialist entrepreneur Savva Mamontov who has brought the nesting doll for her from his business trip to Japan.

 A few decades later, inspired by the nesting principle, Vasil Zvezdochkin crafted the wooden shape and the artist Sergei Malyuting painted the first doll as a beautiful Russian woman, which quickly became the most popular toy.

Different types 

You could bring back a different Matryoshka set from each region of Russia as there are many types of nesting toys. You can even guess which part of the country the souvenir is from depending on the design.

For instance, if the doll’s scarf is tied in a knot with only two strands of hair visible, then it is most likely from Sergiev Posad (northeast of Russia) or if the scarf is small and has a big flower on top – the doll comes from a small village Maidan.

Meanwhile, The Vyatskaya Matryoshka type is believed to be the most difficult to create as each piece of the set is decorated with rye straw.

A Matryoshka is not only a souvenir from Russia. It is a handmade object, which represents more than a female figure. It hosts a story, feelings, and experiences. Each Matryoshka is unique like each person. Each person has their own Matryoshka. It is not a chance, it is a choice.

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