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Russian Matrushka Nesting Dolls

Athlyn Green enjoys unique items and stunning collectibles. She shares her discoveries with readers.

Aren't These Pretty?

A mama doll contains many other dolls inside.

A mama doll contains many other dolls inside.

Russian Matrushka Dolls Are So Captivating

When I was a child, I received a Matrushka doll for a Christmas present. I spent hours playing with my doll, which I named Babayaga. I kept Babayaga with me through all the years and started collecting other nesting dolls.

Russian nesting dolls provide hours of enjoyment to young and old alike. They open to reveal attractively painted dolls hidden away inside, providing hours of enjoyment to young and old alike. Children enjoy taking them apart and assembling all the dolls, and adults are intrigued, as well, and enjoy collecting them.

Many different dolls are available with different colors, different themes, and in different sizes. Truly, there is a doll for every taste. In some areas, there are shops that exclusively sell these dolls.

But where did the dolls originate? How were they made? How have they changed? Why are they so popular? Why do they make such a good collectible?

What Makes Russian Nesting Dolls so Special?

A "mother" opens to reveal a doll inside. This process continues down to the smallest doll, which can be incredibly tiny.

Russian Matrushka Dolls—A Traditional Symbol of Motherhood

Among Russian peasants, the name Matryona or Matriosha was a popular female name. The Latin root "mater" means mother. These names are associated with the image of a portly woman presiding over a large Russian family. Wooden nesting dolls came to be called "Matryoshka," a symbol of motherhood.

From Small to Large

Russian dolls may contain 3 dolls or up to 50 dolls in one main doll.

World Record of 51 Dolls

The largest matryoshka doll in the world is reportedly a 51-piece set hand-painted by Youlia Bereznitskaia of Russia. This doll was completed in 2003 and is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records.

  • The tallest doll measures 53.97 centimetres (21.25 in)
  • Smallest doll measures 0.31 centimetres (0.12 in).

History of Russian Nesting Dolls

Matrushka dolls are a popular Russian national souvenir. While much of the history surrounding the nesting dolls is anecdotal and contradictory, what is believed is that the first Russian doll had its origin in 1890 in a workshop near Moscow.

  • The first Russian nesting doll was created by the artist Sergei Maliutin, aided by a craftsman and turner named Vassiliy Zviozdochkin (or Vasiliy Zvesdochkin).
  • Initially, much attention was paid to the dolls' faces.
  • Russian family life was played out through the dolls, usually a mother and her many offspring.
  • During Perestroika, dolls were created depicting Soviet leaders.

Matrushka dolls were designed to follow a theme, enacted through successive dolls. Because the wooden dolls were graduated, they were and are perfect for this purpose.

  • By 1913, the Russian nesting dolls had captured imaginations to the point that a 48-piece Matrushka doll was displayed at the Exhibition of Toys in St. Petersburg.

History of Matryoshkas

How Matrushka Dolls Were Made

  • Shaping the Nesting Dolls: Much attention was paid to shaping of the Matrushka dolls. Master turners were engaged to turn out almost flawless thinly-sided dolls.
  • Painting the Matrushka Dolls: Matrushka dolls combined Russian style with folk art tradition, reflecting these colorful, cultural influences.
  • Styles of Russian Stacking Dolls: While both male and female figures were portrayed, the dolls by and large depicted the traditional Russian mother wearing a brightly-colored dress (sarafan), apron and scarf.
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  • Doll Proportions: Eventually, standard Matrushka doll proportions were adopted, incorporating a 1 to 2 ratio between the width and height.
  • In 1970, the largest Matrushka doll was created, containing 72 pieces and dedicated to the Soviet leader Lenin.

How Nesting Dolls Are Made

Russian Fairytale Nesting Dolls

Some Russian nesting dolls are available in fairytale themes.

Fairytales are popular with children and when portrayed on the nesting dolls, come alive with charming faces and brightly colored clothing.

It is always a surprise to open a doll and discover what secrets it holds.

A Succession of Dolls ... Hidden Away Inside

Perhaps the best loved feature of Russian Matrushka dolls and all nesting dolls is that they aren't actually a single doll. They open to reveal a succession of dolls inside. The dolls are graduated, decreasing in size until the last doll is reached. The final wooden doll can be incredibly tiny.

  • Different Expressions--some Matrushka's have different expressions painted on their faces, which gives individual dolls distinct personalities.
  • Different Colored Dolls--other dolls contain different colored "mamas."
  • Dolls Depict Fairytale Characters--still other nesting doll sets depict fairytale characters and scenes.
  • Political Figures--famous and infamous politicians are portrayed.
  • Famous Figures--your favorite movie star may be as close as your next nesting doll purchase.
  • Animals--there are some incredibly cute animal nesting dolls.

Russian Matrushka Dolls in Modern Times

Nesting dolls are available in specialty shops and in retail stores around the world. In larger cities, some shops carry an inventory that is made up almost entirely of Matrushka dolls.

As touched on in this article modern dolls encompass a wide range of themes: animals, caricatures, ethnographic or fictional characters. As times change, so too, the sheer variety of the dolls. Whatever your preference, whether for traditional or modern dolls, there is sure to be something to tickle your fancy.

There's a captivating Matrushka doll just waiting for someone to take it home.

Political Nesting Dolls

Russian Political Dolls

Other nesting dolls come in a political themes. These make a unique gift for those interested in politics or politicians.

Meet Some of My Dolls

Three Nesting Dolls

Three Nesting Dolls

A Favorite Collectible

Wooden nesting figures are a favorite collectible item. The dolls add a splash of color to any shelf or mantle but... they do more than just look pretty, they open to reveal the treasures inside, and thus, have captured imaginations of children and the hearts of collectors around the world

© 2009 Athlyn Green


Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on September 28, 2012:

I don't collect them. I love the one I have.

Athlyn Green (author) from West Kootenays on October 26, 2011:

Hi Andy,

Which five dolls are you referring to? I've never come across dolls with specific names but this might be a reality somewhere, depending on who made the nesting dolls. I could see this with political leader nesting dolls.

Andy A on October 26, 2011:

I have continually asked if the five Matryoshka dolls

have individual names - can anyone please answer my question?

Athlyn Green (author) from West Kootenays on January 16, 2009:

Hi Nichoas,

Yes, the dolls seem to fire the imagination.

Nicholas Chase on January 15, 2009:

Hi Athlyn,

Well done Hubpage!

My daughters played with a set of nesting dolls given to them by my sister. My niece played with them. The girls were fascinated by the clever way these were constructed and would spend hours opening an closing them.


Nicholas Chase

Athlyn Green (author) from West Kootenays on January 15, 2009:


I've been collecting them since I was a little girl. I got my first doll as a Christmas present and became hooked!

LondonGirl from London on January 15, 2009:

I have a great set of Matryoska dolls that I bought in Moscow in 1992, with Soviet and Russian leaders ending with Yeltsin.

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