Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka, babushka doll, stacking dolls) are time-honored Russian national souvenir with hundred years of histories. At all large exhibitions, fairs and festivals held in different countries of the world, these amusing nesting dolls are always the most fascinating exhibits. There is a huge variety of matryoshka nesting dolls with many different subjects. Everything what artists see in the surroundings can be painted on marshal nesting dolls. Thus, every so often these matryoshka reflects Russian life and traditions and they are just pieces of Russian life.
As you can see, the form of matryoshka dolls is approximately cylindrical, with a rounded top for the head, tapering toward the bottom, with little or no protruding features. The dolls have no hands (except those that are painted). Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan. The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby lathed from a single small piece of wood (and hence non-opening). The dolls are typically made of linden tree (basswood), dried for at least 2 years to ensure their stability.
The word “matryoshka” (матрёшка), literally “little matron”, is a diminutive form of the Russian female first name “Matryona” (Матрёна).
A set of matryoshka dolls consists of several wooden figures with decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. The number of nested figures can be as few as three or as many as twenty with sufficiently fine craftsmanship. Modern dolls often yield an odd number of figures but this is not an absolute rule; the original Zvyozdochkin set, for instance, had an even number.
Matryoshka dolls are often designed to follow a particular theme, for instance, peasant girls in traditional dress, but the theme can be anything, from fairy tale characters to Soviet leaders.
Matryoshkas are also used metaphorically, as a design paradigm, known as the “matryoshka principle” or “nested doll principle”. It denotes a recognizable relationship of “object-within-similar-object” that appears in the design of many other natural and man-made objects. Examples include the Matryoshka brain and the Matryoshka media-container format.
However, for whatever nomenclature you wish to use, there is no disguising the charm of these delightful figurines. Hopefully, to you, these collectible matryoshka dolls will not only themselves prove a marvelous children’s toy or amazing gift, but a window into the rich, enchanting culture of the Russian people.