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All rights reserved. Any use of the image without the permission of the author is prohibited. Copyright ©

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2021, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm.

Pylyp Orlyk


Pylyp Stepanovych Orlyk was a hetman of the Zaporozhian Host and of Right-Bank Ukraine (1710–14), and hetman-in-exile (1714–42). He was born in the village of Kosuta (today Vileika district, Minsk oblast, Belarus) into a noble family of Polish-Lithuanian-Czech (sometimes referred to as Czech-Belarusian) origin. He initially studied at the Jesuit college in Vilnius and later at the Kyivan Mohyla College, from which he graduated in 1694. In 1698–1700 he was employed as the secretary of the consistory of Varlaam Yasynsky, the metropolitan of Kyiv, Halych, and all of Little Russia. From 1700 to 1706 he held the post of senior military chancellor, and later became superintendent of the General Military Chancellery. In 1707 he was appointed general chancellor in the government of Hetman Ivan Mazepa.

From the start of the Great Northern War (1700–21) and during the initial stage of Hetman Mazepa’s political ties with King Stanislaus I Leszczyński of Poland and King Charles XII of Sweden, Pylyp Orlyk was made privy to contents of their secret correspondence. In 1708 he supported Hetman Mazepa, who sought an alliance with Charles XII, in his attempt to free the Hetmanate from Muscovite rule. After the defeat of the Swedish-Ukrainian army at the Battle of Poltava (1709), Orlyk—together with the hetman, some members of the Cossack starshyna, and the Zaporozhian Cossacks of the kish otaman—wound up in Ottoman-controlled territory, near Bendery. Following Hetman Mazepa’s death and his re-burial at Galaţi on 5 April 1710, Pylyp Orlyk was elected hetman. It was then that he, members of his starshyna, and the Zaporozhian Cossacks signed the document of universals titled “Agreements and resolutions concerning the Cossacks’ rights and liberties,” which later became known in historical sources as the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, or the Constitution of Bendery.

In the next few years, Orlyk committed his efforts to expanding the authority of the Cossack hetman to Right-Bank Ukraine and later even to the Left-Bank Hetmanate. In his hetmancy, Pylyp Orlyk was successful in forming alliances with Sweden, the Ottoman Empire, and the Crimean Khanate. The Treaty of the Pruth (1714) stipulated that the Muscovite tsar Peter I would remove his forces from Right-Bank Ukraine and that territory would be returned to the authority of the Cossack hetman. However, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s position on this matter prevented the deal from being completed. Together with some of the Cossack starshyna of the General Council, Pylyp Orlyk moved to Sweden in 1714. Counting on support from the Swedish authorities to facilitate their return to power in the Hetman state, the Ukrainian government-in-exile stayed in Stockholm until 1720. Unfortunately, the death of King Charles XII and the signing of the Treaty of Nystad (1721), which concluded the Great Northern War, eliminated any chances of return. The Hetmanate was on the path of gradually becoming merely a province ruled by the recently proclaimed Russian Empire.

Starting in 1734, Pylyp Orlyk was forced to stay abroad, first in Salonika and later in the Principality of Moldavia. Orlyk died on 26 May 1742 in Iaşi, where he was buried.

Pylyp Orlyk was married to Hanna Hertsyk, a daughter of Pavlo Hertsyk, the Cossack colonel of the Poltava regiment. Together, they had three sons and five daughters. Prior to his election as hetman, Orlyk wrote and dedicated a few of his poems to Hetman Ivan Mazepa and the family. This brought him fame as a poet of the Baroque era.


History of painting the Pylyp Orlyk portrait

Pylyp Orlyk never had, and could not have had, any portraits of himself painted in his lifetime. The reason was that prior to becoming hetman, Orlyk did not have time to be able to accumulate sufficient wealth and afford significant sponsorship of church building—which would customarily have granted him the privilege of being portrayed as a patron. Further life developments led to Orlyk’s election as a hetman (although in emigration) at the age of only 38. Due to his status of hetman-in-exile, Pylyp Orlyk was forced to remain in hiding and lead a secretive life, trying not to expose himself, his family, and his government to the danger of being captured by the tsarist spies of Peter I.


Therefore, he meant it to be inconspicuous and unrecognizable. If only for this reason, Pylyp Orlyk would not have been interested in having his portrait painted. Moreover, inviting a European artist to create the portrait would be very costly and Orlyk did not have the money to spend, since after Mazepa’s death the Cossack treasury went to Andrii Voinarovsky. The fact that the Ukrainian government-in-exile had essentially no funds also contributed to why Orlyk could not afford a portrait. Hetman Orlyk died abroad at the age of seventy, presenting yet another difficulty to painting his commemorative portrait. As a result, in spite of all his accomplishments, Pylyp Orlyk ended up the only Ukrainian Cossack hetman without a portrait. In the 19th century, attempts to produce a realistic image of this hetman could depend on neither the existing descriptions of his appearance, nor any of the iconographic samples.

On the other hand, this allowed me to use freely my own imagination. Putting together the knowledge of historical clothing of the era that I had acquired thanks to collaboration with Serhii Shamenkov, information about Orlyk’s age when he was elected hetman, a few assumptions by historians about his likely appearance, and the availability in Swedish museums of some artifacts associated with him—in particular, a mace that Orlyk could have inherited from Mazepa—I have created my own, unique portrait of Hetman Orlyk, which differs rather markedly from other such attempts.

I am hopeful that this portrait will find a favourable response among the contemporary Ukrainian audience.

Translated from Ukrainian by Iryna Fedoriw
English language editing by Ksenia Maryniak

I advise you to watch the video of the "History without Myths" channel about Pylyp Orlyk

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