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An Illustrated History of Russian Matryoshka Dolls

The very first matryoshka doll was made and painted to the sketches of the painter S. Malyutin by V. Zvezdochkin, a remarkable craftsman of the late 19th c. It consisted of an eight-piece nest and depicted a girl in a sarafan and a kerchief. Next came the boy, then another girl and so on. The last one was a baby doll in swaddling clothes. In spite of the dolls’ high price, the demand was equally high.

Such was the beginning of Russia’s most famous souvenir. The book you can flick through was printed in 1969, and as a toddler I studied it, not quite realising the scope of uniqueness it presented in colour. The foreign visitors have probably got used to matryoshkas with the faces of modern Russian politicians, but already before then there were matryoshkas in the national costumes of people of Soviet republics, Napoleon and Kutuzov with their closest generals, the characters from the works of Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, Pyotr Ershov, Ivan Krylov, and many other types. There is even a Russian doll in the form of spacemen, evidently marking Yury Gagarin’s flight to space.


So, have a look, the book can be downloaded, and don’t forget to ask questions!

Author: Julia Shuvalova

Julia Shuvalova is the author of Los Cuadernos de Julia blog. She is an author of several books, a translator, and a Foreign Languages tutor. She lives and works in Moscow, Russia.

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