One of the most recognized collectables from Eastern Europe has to be the Russian nesting doll, or more accurately, the Matryoshka.
Surprisingly, this toy had its origins in China, 1000 AD where they made nesting boxes. A few hundred years later they moved from boxes to the first nesting dolls. Unlike the Russian version, the smallest of the Chinese dolls held a grain of rice. From China the nesting doll made its way to Japan where the dolls were made in the likeness of the god of happiness and longevity with six other lucky gods inside.
In the late 1800’s the wife of a wealthy Russian art patron brought a set of the Japanese dolls back to Moscow. It was here that a Russian artist took an interest in these pieces and went to work creating a set of nesting dolls that would help preserve the history of Russian culture. It was this first Matryoshka that started the craze for nesting dolls after winning the bronze medal at the Paris fair in 1900. They became so popular after this that the dolls were in high demand all over the world and continue to be.
The name Matryoshka means “little matron” and is traditionally a symbol of motherhood.The largest of the figures is most commonly a woman and her children nest inside of her.
In early societies having a large family was a common and important practice. In addition to large families it was not uncommon to have extended families living together in one dwelling. Throughout history the mother or matron of the home would oversee everything that happened in the household and she was often the force that held a family together. In the same way the biggest piece of the Matryoshka keeps all the smaller pieces organized and together.
Each member of the family had their unique roll to play. You will often see this depicted in the different figures of the nesting doll set. Each piece painted with something in their hands, showing what their roll in the home was.
These days you will find many styles of Matryoshka. Some with political or sports figures, but my favorites are the more traditional ones and those that tell a story. In our shop we have a variety of different styles of Matryoshka from traditional to story telling styles.