The Se­cret His­tory of: Ma­troyshka dolls

How nested dolls em­i­grated from China through Ja­pan to Rus­sia

Lonely Planet (UK) - - News -

NESTED MA­TRYOSHKA DOLLS ARE pop­u­larly con­sid­ered to be as Rus­sian as crois­sants are French, clogs are Dutch or stiff up­per lips are English. In fact, these enig­matic lit­tle art­works have quite an in­ter­na­tional back­ground. The orig­i­nal idea for nested ob­jects was born in China dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (960 AD–1279 AD). Car­pen­ters made boxes in­side boxes, to sym­bol­ise in­ge­nu­ity. Eight-hun­dred years later, the boxes had evolved into dolls – the small­est of which was so did­dly it held just one grain of rice. The dolls mi­grated to Ja­pan, where they were used to de­pict the Ja­panese Seven Lucky Gods. In the late 19th cen­tury, a Rus­sian named Savva Ma­mon­tov set up an artists’ colony in his home­land, with the aim of strength­en­ing and pro­mot­ing Rus­sian na­tional folk art and crafts. It’s be­lieved the group were in­spired by the Ja­panese dolls to cre­ate their own ver­sion based on ru­ral life in Rus­sia. The first was cre­ated by Sergei Ma­lyutin; he en­listed a wood­worker named Zvy­oz­dochkin to carve the dolls, which Ma­lyutin painted. They called them ‘Ma­tryoshka’, from the Latin root for ‘mother’, and dressed them in sarafans (tra­di­tional ma­ter­nal smocks) and head­scarves: the dolls thus be­came im­ages of Rus­sian mother­hood, fer­til­ity and plenty. They were shown at the World Fair in Paris in 1900, and were an im­me­di­ate hit. In the 1980s, new-found free­dom of ex­pres­sion meant Rus­sian lead­ers could be made into Ma­tryoshka. The largest was usu­ally the then head of state Mikhail Gor­bachev – who, in his doll form, was fondly known as ‘Gorby’.

The world record for the most nu­mer­ous set of Matr yoshka dolls is a 51- piece set painted by You­lia Bereznit­skaia, made in 2003. The big­gest doll is over half a me­tre tall. Tra­di­tion­ally, only wood from a fine - grained lin­den tree can be used to car ve a Matr yoshka. It has to be cured for be­tween one and three years and then cut into blocks. The best of those are selected for lath­ing. The paint­ing tech­nique used for Matr yoshka is called ‘Khokhloma’, a cus­tomar y style of Rus­sian wood paint­ing. It ’s all about leaves, berries and petals, painted freely in vi­brant colours.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.