“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” by Ilya Repin
“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” by Ilya Repin depicts a scene set in 1676, based on the legend of Cossacks sending a reply to an ultimatum of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed IV. The initial response has not survived; however, in the 1870s, an amateur ethnographer found a copy made in the 18th century. He gave it to a historian, who, by chance, read it to his guests, among whom was the painter Ilya Repin. Repin became fascinated by the story and, in 1880, started the first of his studies on the subject.
According to the story, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who were inhabiting the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine, had defeated the Ottoman Empire forces in battle. However, Mehmed demanded that the Cossacks submit to Ottoman rule. The Cossacks, led by Ivan Sirko, replied in a stream of invective and vulgar rhymes. They wrote a letter, replete with insults and profanities. The painting exhibits the Cossacks’ pleasure at striving to come up with ever more vulgarities.
During Repin’s time, the Cossacks enjoyed widespread sympathy. Repin also admired them:
“No one in the world held so deeply freedom, equality, and fraternity.”
Sultan Mehmed IV demand to the Zaporozhian Cossacks
“As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper, and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and a great defender of Christians – I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.”
-Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV
The Cossacks’ reply
“Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!
O SultanSultan, Turkish devil, and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are thou, that canst not slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits and your army eats. Thou shalt not, (a stream of invective)
Thou Babylonian scullion (vulgar rhymes)
Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar. The moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!”
– Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.
Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844 – 1930) was a Russian realist painter. He was the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century. His position in the world of art was comparable to that of Leo Tolstoy in literature. He played a significant role in bringing Russian art into the mainstream of European culture.
Repin was born in Chuguyev, Russian Empire (now Chuhuiv in Ukraine), his father traded horses, and his grandmother ran an inn. He entered military school to study surveying. Soon after the surveying course was canceled, he was apprenticed to a local icon painter, where he restored old icons and painted portraits of local notables through commissions.
In 1863 he went to St. Petersburg Art Academy to study painting. In 1874–1876, he showed at the Salon in Paris and the exhibitions of the Itinerants’ Society in Saint Petersburg. He was awarded the title of academician in 1876.
In 1898 he purchased an estate in Kuokkala, Finland, now Repino, Saint Petersburg. It was known by its Finnish name Kuokkala until 1948 when it was renamed after its most famous inhabitant, the painter Ilya Repin. It is 30 kilometers (19 mi) northwest of St. Petersburg.
In 1901 he was awarded the Legion of Honour. He welcomed the February Revolution of 1917 but was somewhat skeptical about the October Revolution. Soviet authorities asked him several times to come back. He remained in Finland for the rest of his life.
Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
- Title: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
- Also: Cossacks of Zaporog Are Drafting a Manifesto
- Russian: Запорожцы пишут письмо турецкому султану
- Artist: Ilya Repin
- Created: 1891
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 217 cm (85.4 ″); Width: 361 cm (11.8 ft)
- Museum: Russian Museum
- Name: Ilya Yefimovich Repin
- Russian: Илья́ Ефи́мович Ре́пин
- Born: 1844, Chuguyev, Russian Empire
- Died: 1930 (aged 86), Kuokkala, Viipuri Province, Finland
- Nationality: Russian Empire, then Finland (1918–1930)
- Movement: Realism
- Notable work:
A Tour of the Russian Museum
- “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova” by Nathan Altman
- “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov
- “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” by Ilya Repin
Explore the Hermitage Museum
- “Madonna Litta” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
- Composition VI by Kandinsky
- “Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate” by Francisco Goya
- “White House at Night” by Vincent van Gogh
- “The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova
- Egyptian Collection in the Hermitage Museum
- Gonzaga Cameo
- “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova
“Now we’ll conclude,
for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar;
the moon’s in the sky,
the year with the Lord,
the day’s the same over here as it is over there.”
– Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
Photo Credit 1) Ilya Repin [Public domain]