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Nesting Dolls

Russian nesting dolls, also known as matryoshka dolls, are a traditional Russian folk craft. These Russian dolls were first produced in the 1890s and often feature elaborate Russian folk designs. Nowadays, nesting dolls can be found in a wide variety of themes and styles, ranging from winter-themed dolls to political matryoshkas.

What is a nesting doll?

Nesting dolls consist of several dolls of diminishing sizes, designed to fit snugly inside of each other. Barring the smallest doll in the series, each doll screws open at the mid-section to reveal a smaller facsimile. Classic matryoshkas are made of wood, and they are painted to resemble a "babushka," or Russian peasant woman.

How many dolls does a typical nesting doll contain?

Classic nesting dolls typically have seven pieces. These dolls come in a variety of sizes, however, and matryoshka doll collectors can find:

  • 3 Piece Nesting Dolls
  • 5 Piece Nesting Dolls
  • 7 Piece Nesting Dolls
  • 10 Piece Nesting Dolls
  • 15 Piece Nesting Dolls

What are the main characteristics of classic nesting dolls?

Classic nesting dolls are inspired by Russian folk art and have distinguishing features such as:

  • The woman on the outermost doll typically wears a sarafan, which is a jumper dress worn by Russian peasants.
  • While many traditional nesting dolls contain smaller variations of the same figure, others contain entire families, with figures representing the mother, the father, and the children.
  • These wooden dolls are usually made of linden or birch wood.
  • Handmade matryoshkas are painted with gouache, an opaque form of watercolor paint. The imagery is then varnished to add sheen and protect the painted dolls.

What types of modern nesting dolls are available?

Buyers can still find nesting dolls that adhere to the practices of traditional matryoshka makers. Nowadays, however, there are nesting dolls available in many themes, including:

  • Political Matryoshka: Political matryoshka dolls gained popularity in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s; they were a reaction to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This trend continues, and matryoshkas bear the likeness of many world leaders.
  • Holiday Matryoshka: Matryoshka are often painted in celebration of holidays like Easter and Christmas. Santa Claus matryoshka dolls are especially prevalent.
  • Animal Matryoshka: These Russian dolls are often decorated with images of animals, including owls, dogs, and cats.
  • Celebrity Matryoshka: Politicians aren't the only people to have their faces emblazoned on these wooden dolls. Famous actors, composers, and writers have also been transformed into Russian nesting dolls.
  • Ballerina Matryoshka: The ballet is a cultural institution in Russia, and they celebrate this art by decorating dolls with images of ballerinas.
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