Matroyska or Russian Nesting Dolls

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Made in the rural areas near Moscow, Russia, this regional art form of carved and painted wooden dolls is a mainstay with collectors.

Matroyska dolls are hand-made on a wood lathe from native woods. The smallest figure in the group is made first. Other dolls in the same nesting group are carved from the same piece of wood. The dolls are individually painted using layers of egg tempera paint and lacquer. In a group, each doll will have the same facial traits and the body, the belly actually, will be detailed with genre scenes or folk tales.

The dolls are decorated with images from Russian folk tales. Narratives are told through images displayed on the nesting dolls and are read from the largest to smallest doll. The largest doll in the group reflects the beginning of the story, smaller dolls continue the tale, and the tiniest doll reveals the story’s ending.

Nesting dolls were initially didactic toys. They were made to teach children to count, hand/eye coordination in assembling the doll, and traditional Russian folktales. Matroyska dolls are cracked like an egg, assembled, and displayed in a group. The word matroyska means “little mother”.

Matroyskas Nesting DollsThe look of the dolls demonstrates the region from which they originate. For instance, Seminova matroyskas are made in the largest nesting doll center located northeast of Moscow. These dolls feature the highly traditional red, yellow, and blue decoration with a red flower on the doll’s belly and a yellow bonnet. Other regional dolls have distinctive features: Vjatskaya style is red and green with an opened mouth, Tver style is brightly colored, Marijaha style has no floral designs on the doll.

The quality of painting on matroyskas is the most important aspect to determine a high quality doll. A nesting doll group with a small number of dolls and fine painting will command a higher price than a large set of dolls with only mediocre quality painting.

Get an online appraisal of your matroyska nesting doll from Dr. Lori.