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Sergiev Posad Matryoshka

Until late 1890s matryoshkas were manufactured in 'Children's Education' workshop in Moscow. When it was closed the tradition of matryoshka making was maintained in the training workshop in Sergiev Posad, Russian toy-making centre. Soon large-scale production of matryoshkas was launched there. The workshops developed the type of matryoshka which is known as Sergiev Posad or Zagorsk matryoshka. (In 1930 the city was renamed Zagorsk. Now it has its historical name back).

Sergiev Posad is situated 73km (45.5 miles) from Moscow. It has grown up around famous Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery. In 1340 the monk St. Sergius Radonezhsky founded a small temple lost in the midst of the wild forests. In time it was developed into the biggest monastery of Russia.

Arts and crafts were flourished in the towns and villages which surrounded the monastery. Wooden toys which were known as 'Trinity' toys became particular popular. According to the legend the first 'Trinity' wooden toy was made by the Prior of the Monastery, Sergius Radonezhsky.
He personally gave the toys to the children. The pilgrims who came to the Monastery from all over the country were quite happy to buy toys for their children. Even the Tsar's children played with wooden 'Trinity' toys - wooden harnesses, small bowls and spoons. They were purchased in Sergiev Posad where Russian tsars went to pray with their families. Wooden toys, a peasant girl in kokoshnik (peasant head-dress), a dancing muzhik (peasant man) and well-dressed ladies and hussars came down to us from the end of the 18th century beginning of the 19th century. These toys were real wooden painted figurines. Wooden painted carved ladies and hussars had individuality and looked like real characters.

The new wooden toy, matryoshka, painted by professianoal artists in Moscow workshop had a secound birth in this old toy-making center with numerous workshops where skilful hereditary masters worked. In 1900 Russian matryoshka took part in World Exhibition in Paris where it got a medal and became internationally known. The first foreign orders for wooden dolls were made at that time. It could be fulfilled only by skilled craftsmen of Sergiev Posad. In 1904 A. I. Mamontov sold his shop to S. T. Morozov. Then S. T. Morosov opened a branch of Crafts Museum and a workshop in Sergiev Posad. Vasiliy Zviozdoch-kin, the turner, who made the first Russian matryoshka came from bunches of flowers or dressed in winter short fur coats and scarves; old believer women in their sectarian clothes; a bride and a bridegroom holding candles in their hands; a shepherd with a pipe; an old man with a lush beard. At the early period of Sergiev Posad technique development along with female images male images were made as well.

Sometimes matryoshka represented the whole family with numerous children and members of household. Some matryoshkas were devoted to historical themes. They portrayed boyars and their wives, Russian nobility of the 17th century and legendary Russian bogatyrs (warriors). Some matryoshkas were devoted to the book characters. For instance, in 1909 to celebrate the centenary of Gogol's birth, a series of matryoshkas portrayed the characters of his books: Taras Bulba, Plyushkin, Governor. In 1912, to celebrate the centenary of the Patriotic War against Napoleon matryoshkas portrayed Kutuzov and Napoleon whose figurines contained smaller figurines of their field commanders. Some matryoshkas borrowed their subjects from folk tales and folk heroic sagas: Tsar Dadon and Princess Swan from Pushkin's tales, 'The Little Humpback Horse' from Yershov's tale, some characters from Krilov's fable 'The Quartet'.

Along with painted decorations, some matryoshkas featured poker work. Usually poker work was applied to outline the ornament of the whole doll, its clothes, face, hands, scarf and hair. Sometimes the poker pattern was supplemented with a slight tinging of minor decorative details, for instance, a bunch of flowers in the matryoshka's hands or the floral design on the scarf. The traditional matryoshka was also a subject of some experiment. Some figurines were given a shape of an old Russian helmet or a cone. But these 'innovations' were not that popular with customers who preferred the traditional matryoshka.

Though the first painted matryoshkas of Sergiev Posad were quite expensive, they quickly won admiration of adults and children. Four years after the successful presentation of Russian painted matryoshka at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, 'The Russian Craftsmen' partnership opened a permanent shop in Pans where orders came to make matryoshkas. In 1911 such orders for matryoshkas came from 14 countries. The Russian matryoshka was so popular that foreign businessmen started to manufacture a la Russe dolls.

Such dolls were on sale in Germany, France and other countries but the trend petered out because it did not have national soil. On the contrary, the art of the Russian matryoshka of Sergiev Posad was developed further. In 1911 the list of the products of Sergiev Zemstvo training workshop included 21 types of matryoshkas: they had different sizes, painting and different amount of pieces. The matryoshkas of Sergiev Posad consisted of 2 to 24 pieces. The most popular matryoshkas consisted of 3, 8 and 12 pieces. In 1913 a 48-piece matryoshka made by N. Bulichev was displayed at the Exhibition of Toys in St. Petersburg.

In the initial period of Russian matryoshka development, a turner played a very important role. Highly skilled masters turned matryoshkas with very thin sides which was considered to be a special art of matryoshka turning. Apparently, painting was secondary. Professional artists who painted the first turned matryoshkas didn't treat it seriously enough. It was sort of entertain - caricatures in the Museum Estate Polenovo.

During the first two decades matryoshkas were rather diverse. The first group included matryoshkas painted in Russian style or more generally in modern style by professional artists. The first matryoshka painted by S. V. Maliutin represented a figurine of a bull-calf, dressed in the chamberlain costume, decorated by poker work with a characteristic ornament in the modern style.

The second group included matryoshkas made in the independent workshops of Sergiev Posad. They were painted by the artists from the local icon painting school. In the first decades of the 20th century craftsmen of Sergiev Posad developed their own technique of painting and decoration based on deep national traditions. This sincere, naive, unsubtle art impressed everybody and was understood by all. Due to the fact that this art was based on the national culture, it was full of coarse force and expression and was different from exquisite matryoshkas painted by professional artists. 'An Old Man', 'Matryoshka with a Goose', 'Matryoshka with a Basket' and others belong to this group. Folk art tradition was very important in the development of the Russian matryoshka style. Due to the widest layer of folk culture, matryoshka continued to exist even after Russian style, developed by Russian professional artists was forgotten. Icon painters of Sergiev Posad contributed a lot to matryoshka pictorial style. Anthropomorphism, in other words, resemblance to a human being of the Russian 'take apart' doll turned out to be the continuation of ancient Rus sian art tradition. An artist focused mainly on the figure of a person, his or her face.

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