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The first Russian Matryoshka was made just over 100 years ago, at the end of the 19th century.
The Matryoshka is a wooden doll, usually in a colorful dress. If you pull it apart, there is a smaller doll inside – which, in turn, has another one in it. The number of pieces typically ranges from 3 to 12, but there are also "supermatreshkas” boasting up to 60 dolls. Matryoshka dolls are made of wood from lime,balsa, alder, aspen, and birch trees; lime is probably the most common wood type.
The painted image on the dolls is most often a woman wearing traditional Russian costume. The woman is a mother; the names Matryona and Matryoshka were common Russian country names for girls. Both come from the Latin root mater for mother. So matryoshka has come to mean "little mother" based on the idea that the outer or largest doll holds her babies inside like an expectant mother and that each daughter in turn becomes a mother. They are symbols of fertility and motherhood and have a modified egg shape.
From the largest doll to the smallest in a set, each resembles the others, but they are not necessarily identical. The outer doll may wear a costume that is red, the next one green, the third blue, and so forth. Or the costumes may be the same, but each doll may carry something different in her hands. For example, the outer doll may hold a loaf of bread (a symbol of welcome in Russia), the next may carry a bowl of salt (representing welcome and the family's offering of its wealth to guests—salt was once very rare), the third doll may hold several large beets (a traditional Russian vegetable symbolizing the richness of the earth), and a fourth may carry a basket of strawberries (for the sweetness of the garden).
Flowers are one of the most traditional themes with particular flowers representing the cities where the dolls are crafted; usually, the flowers are painted as designs on the shawls and aprons of the matryoshka.
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