Tale of The Priest and his Worker Balda (Сказка о попе и о работнике его Балде) was written in verse by Pushkin in 1830. A short summary of the plot, and on which the paintings on the doll is based on, follows.
A shiftless priest goes to the marketplace in search of a cheap worker. He meets Balda (Балда in Russian means a simple, or not very serious, person) who agrees to work for a year without pay except that he be allowed to hit the priest three times on his forehead and have cooked grains for food. The cheapskate priest agrees to the bargain. But after the priest observes Balda at work, he realizes that he is patient, careful, and most importantly, very strong. This alarms the priest and he starts giving Balda impossible missions to accomplish.
The priest dreams up a fictitious debt from sea devils and asks Balda to collect it from them. Balda troubles the sea with rope and forces the leader of the devils, an old "бес", out. He agrees to pay the debt if Balda will defeat his grandson at running and weight carrying. Balda tricks the young "бес" first by getting a hare, that he claims is his "younger brother", to run in his stead, and then by "carrying" a horse between his two legs by riding on it. The story ends when Balda gives the priest three blows to the forehead which results in the priest losing his mind. The final line is, "You shouldn't have gone rushing off after cheapness." A side note is that the poem was published posthumously and that censors replaced priest with merchant.
From the bottom of the first doll: "Gzhel Motifs based on the Tale of The Priest and his Worker Balda (Сказка о попе и о работнике его Балде) by A.S. Pushkin. Art by L. Lazareva, Khotkovo, 1993." A unique and uncommon doll from 25 years ago. Fully hand made and hand painted. 11 nested, 10½" down to about 1". 1 set only.
Khotkovo, near Moscow, is a town in the Sergiyevo-Posadsky District. Nearby is Abramtsevo, an that became a center for the Slavophile movement and artistic activity in the 19th century.
(Note: the first doll top half overlaps slightly over the bottom half and there is some insignificant light wear and lacquer drips, common to dolls of this era.)