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.
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(to see the larger image click on the picture)
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.
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.