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The matryoshka is the most famous Russian souvenir which is popular with everyone, it is considered to be a phenomenon in the world culture, a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, soul of Russia. This idea is recognized not only by connoisseurs of the language, history and culture of Russia but also by those who just begin their acquaintance with this country. Matryoshka has become sort of a formula of a cultural phenomenon which is unique and has a meaning of its own.

It is hard to imagine now that only about one hundred years ago matryoshka has not existed at all. The first Russian matryoshka appeared only at the end of the 19th century. It was greatly acclaimed as one of the all-embracing image of Russia, symbol of Russian folk art.

The end of the 19th century in Russia was a period of great economic and cultural development, a period of rising national identity. It was time of great interest in Russian culture generally and particularly in Russian art. At this time artistic creative units started to spring up. They can be called spiritual and cultural centers of Russia.

Abramtsevo artistic unit of S.I. Mamontov was part of this cultural trend of the development and revival of Russian traditional national art. Professional artists worked along with folk craftsmen who preserved aesthetic and age-long skills of folk art. The Mamontovs dealt with enlightenment and art collecting. Peasant toys were in their collection of folk art. Special attention was paid to the revival and development of folk peasant toys.

That was a great merit to the family of Anatoly Ivanovich Mamontov (1839-1905), the brother of S.I. Mamontov. This family owned workshop 'Children's Education' where various toys for children were made and sold. So-called ethnographic dolls dressed in folk festive costumes of inhabitants of various Russian regions (gubernias and uezds) were especially distinguished. A.I. Mamontov, a publisher, translator and owner of a printing house, collector of Russian paintings as well as his brother S.I. Mamontov, was a remarkable and active person, who was always surrounded by professional artists, artisans and folk craftsmen.

A.I. Mamontov offered jobs in his studio to highly qualified creative toy makers who had initiative and fantasy. There were various samples of toys from different countries in the workshop to broaden toy makers outlook and to develop their creative fantasy. Oriental art and Japanese fine and applied art in particular was very fashionable at that time.

Thus, a famous predecessor and prototype of Russian matryoshka was brought to Russia from Island of Honshu. It was a figurine of a good-natured bold headed old man, Buddhist sage by the name of Fukuruma. The doll contained some other figurines nestled inside one another. There was a stamp on the figurine's butt-end: made in Japan. By the way, the Japanese claimed that the first doll of such a type on the Island of Honshu was made by unknown Russian monk. Now the Fukuruma figurine is kept in the Artistic Pedagogical Museum of Toys (APMT) in Sergiev Posad.

The makers of the first Russian matryoshka were really talented and unique people. S.V. Maliutin, the first painter of matryoshkas, was the best connoisseur of Russian folk art. Being an artist he used the colors and the style of ancient Russian folk art in his own work. Due to his talent and intuition he was the first of the artists who united folk and professional art. His matryoshka was a light, elegant, spontaneous figurine of a round faced peasant young girl dressed in colorful scarf, and embroidered shirt, sarafan (Russian national costume) and apron. She was holding a black rooster in her hands.

Russian wooden dolls within smaller dolls were called matryoshka. In provincial Russia before the revolution the name Matryona or Matryosha 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 matryoshka is considered to be a symbol of motherhood and fertility. A mother doll with numerous doll-children perfectly expresses the oldest symbol of human culture.


"Matryoshka", Soloviova, Interbook Business, 1997.

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