Analysis of The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Sultan of Turkey to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire
Il’ya Yefimovich Repin is considered one of the greatest Russian painters and is known for painting realistic scenes that depict the climate and times in which he was raised. Born in 1844 in Chuguyev, Russia, now a part of Ukraine, Il'ya Repin was born into the military settlers class. Both his social standing and his homeland would become important influences in his later paintings. The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Sultan of Turkey to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, one of Repin's more famous works, is a great example of the way Repin's works blended themes and scenery of his homeland together with his brand of Social Realist art. I will analyze Repin's representation of the Zaporozhian Cossacks through the lens of Repin's background—particularly his upbringing in Ukraine, his lower social class standing, and the turbulent time of Russian history in which he lived. By viewing the painting this way, the scene of the Zaporozhian Cossacks becomes not simply an illustration of a historical event, but a representational painting that conveys the nationalism, autonomy, freedom and strength that Repin associated with the Cossacks.
The influence of Repin’s upbringing features is notable in almost all of his works; therefore, in order to achieve a greater understanding of his paintings, it is essential to know Repin’s background. Firstly, Repin’s life spanned a vast and turbulent time among Russian History. Born in 1844 and living until 1930, Repin witnessed key events such as World War I, the Assassination of Alexander II and the emancipation of the serfs. The latter event played a key role in Repin’s early childhood. The serfs were not freed until 1861, and although Repin belonged to a class of militant settlers who ranked slightly above serfs in the social hierarchy, he and his family were still owned by the state. In addition, the rigidity of class structure prohibited most social mobility, so Repin had to struggle just to become an artist. Another important influence on artwork was being born and raised in modern day Ukraine. Since the Middle Ages, the land bordering the Crimea had historically been controlled by the Cossacks who defended the frontiers against Turkish raids. Ukraine had also experienced uprisings due to disagreement with the imposition of serfdom from central Russia. Repin was not of Cossack or Ukranian descent, but being in raised Ukraine helped shape the way in which he viewed the world and it gave him inspiration. Ukraine was a more “colorful, exotic antidote” to the “darker, colder northern climes” of Russia, and the natural beauty of the landscape and people were important influences on his works. The importance of the time and place in Russia in which Repin was raised cannot be overstated.
One example of Repin combining themes from his background into a stunning and...