A Matryoshka doll or a Russian nested doll (often incorrectly referred to as a Babushka doll - babushka means "grandmother" in Russian), is a set of dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. "Matryoshka" is a derivative of the Russian female first name "Matryona", which was a very popular name among peasants in old Russia. The name "Matryona" in turn is related to the Latin root "mater" and means "mother", so the name is closely connected with motherhood and in turn the doll has come to symbolize fertility.
The first appearance of Matryoshka is dated from 1890, and are said to have been inspired by souvenir dolls from Japan. However, the concept of nested objects was familiar in Russia, having been applied to carved wooden apples and Easter eggs; the first Fabergé egg, in 1885, had a nesting of egg, yolk, hen, and chick.
The story goes that Sergeiy Maliutin, a painter from a folk crafts workshop in the Abramtsevo estate of a famous Russian industrialist and patron of arts Savva Mamontov, saw a set of Japanese wooden dolls representing Shichi-fuku-jin, the Seven Gods of Fortune. The largest doll was that of Fukurokuju a happy, bald god with an unusually long chin and within it nested the six remaining deities. Inspired, Maliutin drew a sketch of a Russian version of the toy. It was carved by Vasiliy Zvezdochkin and painted by Sergei Maliutin at the Childrens Education Workshop-Salon in Abramtsevo. It consisted of eight dolls; the outermost was a girl holding a rooster, six inner dolls were girls, the fifth doll was a boy, the innermost a baby.
In 1900, M.A. Mamontova, the wife of Savva Mamontov, presented the dolls at the World Exhibition in Paris and the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon, many other places in Russia started making matryoshkas.
During Perestroika, the leaders of the Soviet Union became a common theme depicted on matryoshka. Starting with the largest, Mikhail Gorbachev, then Leonid Brezhnev , then Nikita Khrushchev, Josef Stalin and finally the smallest, Vladimir Lenin. The newer versions start with Dmitry Medvedev and then follow with Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Joseph Stalin and then Vladimir Lenin.
Modern artists create many new styles of nesting dolls. Common themes include animal collections, portraits and caricatures of famous politicians, musicians and popular movie stars. Matryoshka dolls that feature communist leaders of Russia became very popular among Russian people in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, some Russian artists specialize in painting themed matryoshka dolls that feature specific categories of subjects, people or nature.
Areas with notable matryoshka styles include towns of Sergiyev Posad, Semyonovo , Polkholvsky Maidan, and Kirov.