To this day, Russian doll Matrioska remains an irresistible subject for all those women who ask for two things in a tattoo: femininity and love.
The first Matrioska appeared in Russia around 1890 in a crafts lab and shop naming Educating Children. The man behind this circle was Sava Mamontov, a wealthy industrialist with a passion for both economic and cultural progress. Mamontov’s ambitious plan was clear from the start: to give rise to a new Russian style. So in 1890 one of the participants (the brilliant Sergey Malyutin) came up with the notion of a wooden toy based on the old Japanese story of the wise man, Fukuruma. Inside it contained a further seven dolls, all in scale and designed to nest inside the “mother doll”. Then Sergey asked for help from a skilled carpenter by the name of Vasiliy Zveydochin and brought his revolutionary idea to life. The Matrioska was officially born.
Origin of the name
Matrioska means “little mother”. But it might be more accurate to say “woman who has had many children over the course of her life”. A female figure called Matriona (a widespread name in the Russian countryside in the 19th century) with obvious roots in the Latin “mater” (mother), she is clearly symbolic of a woman in the fullness of her health, plump, radiating the idea of fertility and becomes a sort of symbol of a generous Mother Nature.
The Semyonov revolution
Around 1931, as a result of the experiments of local man Arsenty Mayorov and his daughter Luba, something began to move in Russia. The inhabitants of Semyonov wanted dolls that were more decorative and symbolic than those produced in Sergiev Posad so far. They were not there just to have fun or amuse children. They wanted to draw on the most ancient traditions of old Russia. And that was when the Matrioska acquired the aesthetic form we know and love today: the face became fuller, the lips more clearly defined, the cheeks ruddier and there was the addition of a skirt, apron, shawl and even hands.
The Maidan improvement
Another place worthy of mention in this regard is Polkhovsky Maidan, situated on the River Polkhovka, where Matrioskas have been made since the end of the 1930s. And if Sergiev Posad is all about technique and Semyonov art, then Maidan stands out for colour. The dolls made here are a veritable chromatic explosion (with much use of green, blue, yellow, purple and crimson) and, despite the lack of attention to the features in these dolls, in symbolic terms we are looking at the most successful Matrioska of them all. The decorators in Polkhovsky Maidan always include various floral motifs on the apron, giving pride of position to the dog rose with its sensual waxy petals – a clear metaphor for femininity, sex, love and maternity in general.
However, something of the original purity has been lost along the way since these dolls are now being made in far too many parts of modern day Russia. This means they are losing the original hand-crafted features of the places of origin we spoke so far (Sergiev Posad, Semyonov and Polkhovsky Maidan). Maybe a Matrioska you buy today has become a mere toy rather than a work of art. But to tell the truth, when you see that smiling doll tattooed on the skin of so many girls in 2017, it still retains its allure, a true symbol of seduction and sheer femininity.