Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks

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Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
rus: Запорожцы пишут письмо турецкому султану, ua: Запорожці пишуть листа турецькому султанові
Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto
ArtistIlya Repin
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions203 cm × 358 cm (80 in × 141 in)
LocationState Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, also known as Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto (Russian: Запорожцы пишут письмо турецкому султану, romanizedZaporozhtsy pishut pis'mo turetskomu sultanu, lit.'Cossacks write a letter to the Turkish sultan'), is a painting by Russian[1] artist Ilya Repin. The 2.03 m (6 foot 8 inch) by 3.58 m (11 foot 9 inch) canvas was started in 1880 and finished in 1891. Repin recorded the years of work along the lower edge of the canvas. Alexander III bought the painting for 35,000 rubles, at the time the greatest sum ever paid for a Russian painting. Since then, the canvas has been exhibited in the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.


Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks depicts a supposedly historical tableau, set in 1676, and based on the legend of Cossacks sending an insulting reply to an ultimatum from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed IV.

According to the story, the Zaporozhian Cossacks (from "beyond the rapids", Ukrainian: za porohamy), inhabiting the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine, had defeated Ottoman Empire forces in battle. However, Mehmed demanded that the Cossacks submit to Ottoman rule. The Cossacks, led by Ivan Sirko, replied in a characteristic manner; they wrote a letter, replete with insults and profanities. The painting exhibits the Cossacks' pleasure at striving to come up with ever more base vulgarities.

Sultan Mehmed IV 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 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 came as a stream of invective and vulgar rhymes:

Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!

O sultan, 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, thou son of a whore, make subjects of Christian sons. We have no fear of your army; by land and by sea we will battle with thee. Fuck thy mother.

Thou Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig's snout, mare's arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow. Screw thine own mother!

So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won't even be herding pigs for the Christians. 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!

The version that is stored at the Kharkiv Art Museum [ru; fr; de]

In the 19th century, the historical Zaporozhian Cossacks were sometimes the subject of picturesque tales demonstrating admiration of their primitive vitality and contemptuous disregard for authority (in marked contrast to the more civilized subjects of the authoritarian Russian state).[2] Whether the incident portrayed actually happened or is a just another of these tales is not known, but no concrete or reliable evidence exists that it did happen,[2] although the question remains disputed.[3]

Nikolai Gogol's 1842 romantic-historical novella Taras Bulba describes the incident in passing. Repin associated with Savva Mamontov and his artistic circle and probably heard the story there; at any rate, Repin made his first sketches for the painting in Mamontov's home.[2]

While working on the original version, Repin in 1889 began work on a second version. This work remained unfinished. The artist tried to make the second version of The Cossacks more "historically authentic". In 1932 it was transferred by the Tretyakov Gallery to the M. F. Sumtsov Kharkiv Historical Museum. In 1935, it was moved to the Kharkiv Art Museum [ru; fr; de], where it is now stored. This canvas is slightly smaller than the original version.

The historian Dmytro Yavornytsky assisted Repin in portraying the scene authentically.[3] Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a popular journalist of partial Cossack descent, was said to be one of the models who posed for Repin. This, however, turned out to be a falsehood.[4]

Cultural references[edit]

  • The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire wrote a versified version of the letter ("Réponse des Cosaques Zaporogues au Sultan de Constantinople") as part of his poem "La Chanson du mal-aimé" in his collection of poems Alcools (1913).
Members of the 1907 Duma drafting a reply to Stolypin
A 1923 Russian cartoon parody of the painting, "Bolsheviks writing a Reply to Englishman Curzon"
  • Art critic Clement Greenberg selected Repin's painting as a bad example of "kitsch" in his influential essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch (1939).[5]
  • The painting appears in the opening credits of the 1962 movie Taras Bulba.
  • The writing of the letter is depicted in the film Taras Bulba (2009).
  • A trailer for the "Cossacks" expansion to the video game Europa Universalis IV includes an altered version of the reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (2015). The expansion itself also includes artwork based on the original painting.[6]
  • The game Cossacks: European Wars has the central detail of the picture in its logo.
  • The game Cossacks 3 has the painting as the background of the main menu.


Several full-size copies of the Repin painting exist, including a famous reproduction by Pavel Porfirov (Repin's student), currently held by the Cincinnati Art Museum.


  1. ^ "Ilya Yefimovich Repin | Biography, Art, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-12-31.
  2. ^ a b c Walther K. Lang (Spring 2002). "The Legendary Cossacks: Anarchy and Nationalism in the Conceptions of Ilya Repin and Nikolai Gogol". Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "InfoUkes: Ukrainian History -- The Cossack Letter: "The Most Defiant Letter!"". Retrieved 2020-03-16.
  4. ^ Предисловие. // Владимир Алексеевич Гиляровский. Сочинения. Т. 1. «Правда», 1967.
  5. ^ Greenberg, Clement (1939). "Avant-Garde and Kitsch". Partisan Review. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  6. ^ "Europa Universalis IV - The Cossacks". Paradox Interactive. Oct 15, 2015. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22.

Book references[edit]

  • Dmytro I. Yavornytsky (1895) History of the Zaporogian Cossacks, Vol. 2, pp. 517–518. St. Petersburg. Available in both modern Ukrainian and Russian language editions.
  • Myron B. Kuropas (1961) The Saga of Ukraine: An Outline History. MUN Enterprises
  • Саєнко В.М. (2004) "Лист до турецького султана" та деякі міфологічні відповідності // Нові дослідження пам’яток козацької доби в Україні. – Вип.13. – К. – С. 418–420.
  • Prymak, Thomas M., "Message to Mehmed: Repin Creates his Zaporozhian Cossacks," in his Ukraine, the Middle East, and the West (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2021), pp. 173-200.

External links[edit]