Russian Nesting Dolls, Matryoshka, Babushka/Stacking Dolls

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Nesting dolls are the best known and most popular of all Russian souvenirs. The Russian word for these wooden dolls is matryoshka, but they are also called matrioshka, matreshka, matriochka, babushka or babooshka dolls, babushka's doll, matroshka, matruska, matryushka, and stacking dolls. Whatever you want to call them, nesting dolls have a fascinating history, and they are the classic Russian gift.

The most traditional nesting doll design is one that looks like a young Russian woman dressed in Russian native costume with a scarf on her head. In the traditional nesting doll sets all of the dolls look almost identical to one another, and the number of dolls in the set ranges from 5 to 30, but some custom made matryoshkas contain many more. In other cases, the set forms a theme, such as the classic sets of nesting dolls of Russian leaders, with each earlier leader nested inside. That is a doll inside a doll inside another doll and so on.

Our online store has over 400 different styles of carefully handcrafted nesting dolls, ranging from the most traditional, to the latest political, entertainment, and sports figures. To help you find the nesting doll that's right for your occasion, we've organized them by theme. Please also note that we welcome orders from wholesale customers.

Russian Nesting Doll Styles

  • Classic
  • Traditional
  • Politics
  • Music
  • Animals
  • Christmas
  • Exclusive
  • Custom Made
  • Art
  • Nationalities
  • Cartoons/Films
  • Sports
  • Religion
  • Large
  • Blank

Nesting Dolls as Gifts

Russian nesting dolls make wonderful gifts, and are traditionally given on many kinds of special occasions. For example, they make:

  • Beautiful wedding decorations
  • Housewarming gifts
  • Children's toys
  • Mother's Day and new baby gifts
  • Collectibles

History of Matryoshka Nesting Dolls

The Story Behind the Name

"Matryoshka" are Russian wooden dolls with smaller dolls stacked within the bigger ones.

In provincial Russia before the revolution the name Matryona or Matriyosha was a very popular female name. It was derived from the Latin root 'mater' which means 'mother'. This name was associated with the image of a mother of a big family who was very healthy and had a portly figure. Subsequently, it became a symbolic name and was used specially to describe brightly painted wooden dolls made in such a way that they could be taken apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another.

Even now nesting doll is considered to be a symbol of motherhood and fertility. A mother doll with numerous dolls-children perfectly expresses the oldest symbol of human culture.

The first Russian nesting doll turned by Vassily Zviozdochkin and painted by Sergey Maliutin contaned 8 pieces: a girl with a black rooster was followed by a boy and then by a girl again and so on. All figurines were different from each other, the last one was a figurine of a baby wrapped in diaper.


Confusion About the Name


One of the most widely spread errors in this area is the usage of the word "babushka" to designate a nesting doll. Linguistically this word is linked to the proper name ("matryoshka") by sound-proximity of the distortion "matryushka" to the word "babushka". This misleading link is further strengthened by the meaning of the word "babushka". In Russian language the word means "grandmother" and many, by association, believe that "babushka" stands for a "little grandmother doll", which is not so. A RussianLegacy.com Internet survey has shown that out of 10,000 people who took part in the statistics experiment most (51%) call "matryoshka" dolls "nesting dolls", 10.5% - "babushka" or "babushka dolls", 9.5% - "matrioshka", 17% - "babooshka", "matroshka", "matreshka", "matryushka", "stacking doll" or "stackable doll", and only 12% know the doll by its proper name - "matryoshka".

Nesting Doll Making

It was quite easy for Russian craftsmen who had had a considerable experience in turning wooden objects which fitted inside each other (for example, Easter eggs) to work out the nesting doll making technology.

The basic technique of nesting doll making remains unchanged. As a rule nesting dolls are made from lime, birch, alder and aspen. Lime is the most abundant material. The trees chosen to manufacture nesting dolls are cut down at the beginning of Spring, usually in April when the trees are full of sap. The felled trees are stripped of their bark leaving a few rings to prevent the wood from cracking. The logs prepared in this way with their butt-ends smeared over are arranged in piles with a clearance between them to allow aeration.

The logs are kept in the open air for two years. Only an experienced master can tell when the material is ready. Then the logs are cut into workpieces for nesting dolls. Every workpiece can be turned as many as 15 times before the nesting doll will be ready. Making a doll on a turning lathe requires high skills, an ability to work with a beguilingly small set of tools - a knife and chisels of various length and shape. The smallest figurine which cannot be taken apart is usually made first. The bottom part of the next figurine which can be taken apart is turned first. Then a workpiece is turned to reach the necessary size and the top end is removed. Then the ring is made to fit on the upper part of the nesting doll and then its lower part can be made. Then the nesting doll's head is turned and the necessary amount of wood is removed from within the nesting doll's head to slip on the upper ring. All these operations do not involve any measurements, and rely only on intuition and require high professional skills.

The upper part of the nesting doll is stuck on to its lower part. Then it dries and tightens the ring so it sits securely in place. When the turning work is over, a snow white doll is thoroughly cleaned, primed with starchy glue to make the surface ideally smooth and to prevent the paint making smudges and then dried. Now it is ready to be painted. The first Russian nesting doll was poked and painted with gouache and covered with varnish by S. V. Maliutin.


Early Nesting doll

Serviev Posad - the birthplace of the first Russian nesting doll - was a colorful, truly Russian town. Its Monastery lent a unique peculiarity to it. The huge market place in front of the Monastery was almost always full of different people: merchants, monks, pilgrims and craftsmen were milling around.

The first nesting dolls of Sergiev Posad portrayed this colorful life: young girls dressed in Russian sarafans carrying baskets, scythes, bunches of flowers or dressed in winter short fur coats and scarves; old believer women in their conservative clothes; a bride and a bridegroom holding candles in their hands; a shepherd with a pipe; and old man with a lush beard. At the early period of Sergiev Posad technique development, along with female images, male images were made as well.

Sometimes nesting doll represented the whole family with numerous children and members of household. Some nesting dolls were devoted to historical themes. They portrayed boyars and their wives, Russian nobility of the 17th century and legendary Russian bogatyrs (warriors). Some nesting dolls were devoted to the book characters. For instance, in 1909 to celebrate the centenary of Gogol's birth, a series of nesting dolls portrayed the characters of his books: Taras Bulba, Plyushkin, Governor. In 1912, to celebrate the centenary of the Patriotic War agains Napoleon nesting dolls portrayed Kutuzov and Napoleon whose figurines contained smaller figurines of their field commanders. Some nesting dolls borrowed their subjects from folk tales and folk heroic sagas: Tsar Dadon and Princess Swan from Pushkin's tales, 'The Little Humpbacked Horse' from Yershov's tale, some characters from Krylov's fable 'The Quartet'.


Nesting Doll Today

Nesting doll, a doll which looks quite simple but full of unexpected sense, turned out to be the best embodiment of the present time spirit. Nesting doll as a form of folk art possesses tremendous potential to convey the deepest sense of the events developed in space and time. The carnival folk element which is seen in the nesting doll decoration allows not only to rise life's eternal issues, but to realize contemporary life in its everyday and busy form.

For example, there is a whole range of Russian nesting dolls depicting Russian tsars, Russian and foreign state and public officials. The nesting dolls portraying modern politicians have a grotesque style - old tradition appeared long time ago. For example, a very well known nesting doll-caricature was painted by V. A. Serov. S. I. Mamontov, V. A. Serov humself, musicians P. A. Spiro, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov and other participants of the Mamontovs theatrical performances were represented on this nesting doll in Turkish costumes.

Almost all political upheavals of the late 1980s and the early 1990s are being represented in the funny caricatures. The political nesting doll has a very clear 'subordination'. M. S. Gorbachev's legendary political career during perestroika brought him popularity in many European and American states. 'Groby' became the most favorite nesting doll of that time. Stylistically it resembles 'Hetman' a lot. 'Hetman' was a famous nesting doll of the early 20th century from Sergiev Posad. None of the politicians have escaped this fate - do view our political nesting dolls selection.

Long time ago at the beginning of the 20th century some painters tried to use nesting doll as a surface to paint some pictures on it. It could be either fairy tale theme or a landscape. These attempts made in the past helped to develop a new nesting doll type.

Its wooden form is used to reproduce this or that theme. Two traditions in nesting doll painting are linked wit each other: the topicality of Sergiev Posad painting joins the decorative manner of Nizhny Novgorod. Nesting doll's apron is a traditional place to feature the major element in the nesting dolls of Nizhny Novgorod. This particular detail is borrowed by modern toy makers.

Various types of nesting dolls are distinguished by the way their aprons are painted. For example, some nesting dolls have architectural monuments on their aprons. Such nesting doll is a wonderful souvenir which reminds this or that historical place.

Nesting dolls representing Trinity - St. Sergius Monaster, architectural monuments of the old Russian towns of Vladimir, Suzdal, Novgorod and other are very popular - see an example of such nesting doll depicting the Golden Ring of Russia.

The trend of using decorative elements which are typical for Russian folk culture traditional centers becomes more and more popular in the decoration of modern nesting doll. Very often one can see a nesting doll painted a la Gzhel, Zhostovo, Khokhloma, or Palekh.

Modern nesting doll absorbs in certain ways the treasure of folk Russian art traditions. Author's nesting dolls are very expressive and energetic - view an example of exclusive authors' nesting dolls.

It was quite natural in the late 1980s and early 1990s that many Russian professional artists and craftsmen earlier deprived by certain barriers started to paint nesting dolls. This type of art revealed their energy which has been preserved for a long time. The nesting dolls painting imbibes all bright, fresh elements connected with the renewal and the renaissance of Russian society of the 20th century.

It is possible to say that this time has given the world the new type of art - Russian author's painted nesting doll which is now a part of many Russian and Western art collections.

We can see dignity and humility, power and hope for the future, deep sorrow and boundless hilarity in the Russian painted nesting doll… Time goes on and the new generations are impressed by the talent and imagination of the creators of folk and author's nesting dolls. It is from this source that they derive vital the power and energy for their own quest and achievements.

Nesting doll is a huge artistic event which requires comprehension. It is both sculpture and painting, image and soul of Russia.

Come in and explore over 400 styles of our Russian nesting dolls!