During my last travel, I went to Russia. I bought the most popular Russian souvenir: the Matryoshka. Everyone knows what a Matryoshka is…but do you know the meaning of the name? When was it designed for the first time? Who was the designer? What is the symbolic meaning of the souvenir?
Description of the Russian souvenir and origin of the name
Everyone knows that a Matryoshka is a nesting doll. It is a set of typically seven wooden dolls of decreasing sizes that all fit inside of each other, one by one. Each stacking doll splits in half at the midsection and opens to reveal another smaller doll nested within. Each Matryoshka is handmade, for this reason, it is unique: you can not find two Matryoshka identical.
In Russian, the word “Matryoshka” is matrëška, the diminutive name for Matrëna, a female name which comes from Latin word matron (mother).
History of Matryoshka
The first Matryoshka was designed in 1892 by Vasilij Petrovič Zvézdočkin, a craftsman of the “Childhood studio”, created by Savva Ivanovič Mamontov (1841-1918), a famous collector. Probably, Mr Zvézdočkin was inspired by Sergéj Vasíl’evič Maljútin’s painted. He painted a Fukurama statue, a Buddhist God of Honshu (Japanese Island). The statue was brought by Mrs Mamontov. The statue had inside other mythological figures. Mr Zvézdočkin created a doll with round in shape and decoratively painted to resemble a pretty young faced peasant woman dressed or bundled up in an extravagant Sarafan costume, a loose fitting traditional Russian garment. The original Matryoshka was a set of dolls which represent: a big mother, five peasants, a Russian boy, and a baby. The original Matryoshka is exposed at the Museum of Russian Matryoshka, in Moscow.
In 19000, The Matryoshka was exposed at the International Expo in Paris. It was a success. The production of the Matryoshka improved, and the craftsmen produced different kind of Matryoshka: each craftsman became an artist. They were inspired by characters of fairy tales, and, recently, by politicians or historical characters, like Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, Putin.
The symbolic meaning
Matryoshka is made by different dolls. The biggest doll is called “mother”, the smallest one is called seed.
Originally, the biggest doll represents a strong female matriarch who is the main symbol of the Russian family. In itself, the doll fits inside little dolls which represent daughters and sons.
For this reason, Matryoshka represents fertility and motherhood.
The Matryoshka is also the symbol of Russia: the big doll represents Russia mother, and in itself she hosts children, women, men, but also feelings like pain, happiness, joy. It is a mother who can host all these things.
Matryoshka can represent also our life: we are like a big doll with other dolls inside which represent our stories, relationships, experiences. We are one person with different experiences. The seed represents our soul which is innocent and it is the real essence of ourselves.
In conclusion, a Matryoshka is not only a souvenir from Russia. It is a handmade object, which represents more than a female figure. It hosts a story, feelings, experiences. Each Matryoshka is unique like each person. Each person has its own Matryoshka. It is not a chance, it is a choice.
When you will visit Moscow, go to the Izmayloskaya market (Northern Moscow), look at all Matryoshka that craftsmen have designed, and find your Matryoshka.