Walking around almost any Russian city center, you are likely to come across some gift shops offering various souvenirs ranging from bearskins and shapkas to Stalin’s busts. But undoubtedly the major souvenir would be the Russian Dolls also called nesting dolls or “Matryoshkas”. Widely in use a hundred years ago, this name is associated with maternal grace and prosperity that is symbolized by curved shapes and the principle of nesting dolls.
Those wooden masterpieces are considered to be a typical Russian thing, offered as a toy that came to us from the depths of time. Indeed, they look like a part of the traditional Russian culture with all the tiny paint details, like berry or flower shaped ornaments and red shawls.
Makes it difficult to imagine that originally nesting dolls are a Japanese sacred representation of the seven lucky gods. It turns out that during the Russian vogue for eastern culture, one figurine was brought to Moscow by a rich woman. This wooden item inspired a Russian artist, Sergey Malyutin, famous for being a Russian culture proponent, to create the first example of a Russian Doll. It was a now well recognizable woman keeping all her progeniture. Good to mention that back in those days Russia was the third populated country in the world and with the greatest fertility rate of 7.3 children per woman would soon have been the most populated country in the world according to 1900’s European forecast. Not surprising that Russian Dolls became popular inside Russia as a symbol of prosperity and health, illustrating big Russian families.
The first international success was reached when a consignment of those toys was shipped to France, at the Russian stand for the Universal Exposition of 1900 where it was awarded with a bronze medal.
Since then matryoshkas begun their symbolical, political and touristic career. Being a well recognizable symbol of Russia, they even have a Franco-British film called after them.