Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Matryoshka Dolls of Prague and Krakow

I took the following photos of Matryoshka, a.k.a, babushka, dolls, in Prague and Krakow. Matryoshkas are sets of dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. The word "matryoshka" is derived from the Russian female first name "Matryona", and the word "babushka" is the Russian word for grandmother.

The original matryoshka were created by Vasily Zvyozdochkin, a wood carver and designed and painted by Sergey Malyutin, a folk crafts painter at the estate of Russian industrialist and patron of arts, Savva Mamontov. The design was inspired by a set of Japanese wooden dolls representing the Seven Gods of Fortune. This original set consisted of eight dolls -- the outermost was a girl holding a rooster, six inner dolls – the first four, all girls; the fifth doll, a boy; and the innermost, a baby. In 1900, Savva Mamontov's wife presented the dolls at the World Exhibition in Paris, where the toy earned a bronze medal.

A set of matryoshkas consists of a wooden figure which separates, top from bottom, to reveal another figure of the same sort inside, which has, in turn, another figure inside of it, and so on. The number of nested figures is traditionally at least five, but can be much more - up to several dozen with sufficiently fine craftsmanship. Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan, a traditional Russian long, shapeless jumper dress (pinafore) worn as Russian folk costume by women and girls. The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby fashioned from a single small piece of wood (and hence non-opening). The artistry is in the painting of each doll, which can be extremely elaborate.

Matryoshka dolls are often designed to follow a particular theme, for instance peasant girls in traditional dress, as my photos depict; but the theme can be anything, from fairy tale characters to world leaders.

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