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The matryoshka : a legendary symbol of Russia


Some inspiring-sounding words set off our imaginations in just a few syllables. Samovar, troika, and ushanka are just three that entice us into adventure. Today we are going to focus on yet another – the mysterious and enchanting matryoshka…

Kusmi Tea made the legendary, colorful, and joyous Russian doll – also known as a “matryoshka” – the symbol of its 150th anniversary celebrations. However, we should rather say “these” Russian dolls, as each figurine holds another smaller version within it, all fitted perfectly into one another.

Russian dolls are usually decorated to depict a stout, jovial woman dressed in the style of a farmer.

This is in fact why they were first called matryoshkas, which is a diminutive of the “Matryona,” itself a widespread name in rural Russia. Each of these little dolls contained within a larger model symbolizes a member of the family – often children – right down to the youngest. They are also a symbol of fertility, and highlight the importance of family ties. Matryoshkas are generally sculpted from blocks of linden wood (or birch), which is both light and resistant – an essential quality as the dolls are made to be played with. What’s more, the wood’s consistent grain means it is unlikely to crack.

But despite their heritage, Russian dolls are actually said to be from China!

In the late 19th century, a Russian industrialist traveling in the Far East supposedly brought back a series of dolls that represented divinities. The Muscovite painter and decorative artist Sergey Malyutin was so inspired that he had the first ever Russian matryoshka sculpted by the woodcarver Vasily Zvyozdochkin, so he could paint his own version. The new doll was so popular it even won a bronze medal at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900!

The matryoshka is now unquestionably a symbol of Russia and a work of art in its own right.

Today there are dolls to suit all tastes and budgets, and vast range of variation in terms of size, color, and decoration. And while the traditional figurines still depict a woman, there are now a number of editions portraying fairy tale characters, celebrities, and even animals!


So, if you travel to Russia to discover its cultural treasures, make sure you bring a doll home!