Matrioska: Main symbol of Russian tradition
Some symbols and objects have cultural importance for Russia. But, very few will have such relevance as the popular Russian dolls. As a fundamental part of Russian tradition, matrioskas are recognized as the cultural heritage of mankind, and their elaboration is one of Russia’s most iconic customs.
The origin of Russian dolls
There are several stories about the origin of Russian dolls. One of the most accepted, establishes that they appear in 1898, in the city of Moscow. The Mamontov family, which was known because they possessed enormous wealth and eccentric luxuries, would be the ones who would have it.
Vasily Zvezdochka, a craftsman who worked for the family, together with the artist Sergey Malyutin, made the design of the first model. Focused as a toy that expressed the customs of Russia, the first matrioska was born. This first model, consisted of a doll that contained seven others inside. Which were inside one another, since they were smaller as they were placed inside another.
The first name he received this toy was “matryona” (mother in Russian). But to the artists, it seemed like a very serious name. So, they decided to use their diminutive “matrioska.” The first doll had the image of a peasant girl with her traditional clothes. Since the doll, attached to Russian tradition, was aimed at children in the countryside.
The production of these dolls migrated from Moscow, to Sérgiyev Posad (currently known as the city of Russian dolls), to the northeast. There, local artists continued to produce them, which made them one of Russia’s greatest customs.
For the early twentieth century, during an art exhibition in Paris, these Russian dolls were exhibited. From this point, its popularity was growing exponentially. Since it was a very simple object, easily crafted, but with a huge visual appeal. The matrioska was simple, but great.
“From the moment the matrioskas began to be made in Sérgiyev Posad, this city has been considered as the cradle of the Russian doll,” said Baranova.
A didactic doll. Russian customs icon
Learning is essential for children, and in Russian tradition, the use of matrioskas too. This is because they are used to teach children very important things, such as color sizes, and even numbers and letters.
An example of this, and perhaps the best, is that the difference between sizes can be explained very well. Children can understand well that small and large are very different. Since none of these Russian dolls can be introduced into a smaller one. The small within the large. It becomes simple.
The twentieth century would be crucial for Russia’s customs to become popular. Many artisans tried small design changes on Russian dolls, modifying them to represent other characters, such as literary works and historical figures.
One way to set an example is that, by 1912, commemorating the invasion of France into Russia, this Russian tradition was used to represent Napoleon in a doll. Another doll was made to represent his warlike opponent, Marshal Mikhail Kutuzzov, along with his lieutenants.
Also, to commemorate a century of the birth of the writer Nikolai Gogol, dolls came out, representing various characters of works of his authorship, such as “Dead Souls” and “The Inspector”
The best known example is the anniversary of the October revolution, in 1917. For which it was made of these Russian dolls but one meter high. Showing the peoples of several Soviet countries. With the typical costumes of each one. Russian tradition was the center of attraction for that time.
The making of this icon of Russian customs
Tilia wood is ideal for making Russian dolls, Since the tree has almost no branches and its bark is very clean. In addition the fiber of its wood is soft, which allows it to be handled without the risk of breakage.
Having reached the workshop Tilia, it is carved so that the shape of the outer wrist is appreciable, and is hollow. So, repeat the process with the smaller ones.
Then, the artist takes it and covers it with a paste, which is a mixture of white glue and water. This, despite industrialization, remains a Russian tradition. This process means that the wood will not be able to absorb the paint, and the drawings will be durable. The process is also repeated on small dolls.
Once dry, the Russian dolls receive the contour drawing, so the theme will be known. Smaller dolls will have the same design, or different, depending on the purpose of the artist.
Then, details of the doll are painted like the face, arms and clothes. Particular details are applied that go according to the artist’s intention, both externally and in the smallest ones. In the end, the patterns are fixed with lacquer. This Russian tradition has been carried out in the same way for more than a century.
The world of the author matryoshka is vast. Political changes in Russia in the early 1990s allowed the Russian doll to reach a different level. Modern authors continue to create in classic styles, which, however, have a new interpretation. For example, themes on religious subjects appeared on the mural. By the way, the iconic painters of Sergiev Posad proved to be brilliant here.
The main attention in the author’s matrioska is given to its decoration rather than its form. Artists are trying to express their attitude towards the world around them. For example, the story of the Tsar’s family, which worried the Russian people, is represented in the Matryoshka Museum by a multi-seat nested doll with portraits of members of the Tsar’s family.
Today we see a vivid example of how the Russian doll connects the present with the past: it portrays Nicholas II and political figures, as well as the presidents of Russia. On the aprons of the dolls, motifs of Pavlo-Posad shawls, Zhostovo trays and architectural monuments are depicted, illustrating the combination of Russian artistic traditions of applied art. This is precisely its symbolic meaning, the embodied image of motherhood and fertility.
Currently, almost anywhere in the world, the existence of these spectacular Russian dolls is known. In fact, you can find it in a souvenir shop, all over Russia. Its popularity is so great that various artists represent this Russian tradition in a particular way. Dolls symbolizing the Beatles, political, religious, historical figures, among many others. What makes them perhaps, the best known of all Russian customs.