Greetings! I'm the artist Natalia Pavlusenko.
Since 2005, I have been working in the genre of Ukrainian historical portraiture.
By consulting with leading historians, reenactors, and experts on the Cossack era, I strive to recreate the image and appearance of historical figures from Ukraine's past.
The aim of my work is to restore the authentic appearance of the Ukrainian state leaders from the past. In my opinion, this will allow us to connect with real history.
Why am I creating the series "Heroes of Cossack Ukraine"?
Over the course of 300 years under the rule of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian art was systematically destroyed.
For example, all the portraits of hetman Ivan Mazepa were destroyed after a special order from the Russian tsar Peter I. The Russian Empire rewrote and distorted our history to serve its interests. Moreover, historical portraits were often destroyed in endless wars.
The deep economic crisis during the 1990s also failed to facilitate the resurgence of portraits. Additionally, to create new portraits, historians had to research sources that artists could use as a basis for creating new images. This required years of research work.
As a result, at the beginning of its Independence in 1991, Ukraine had very few portraits of its historical figures to include in school textbooks.
Once upon a time, my son was studying the history of Ukraine at school, and I was saddened by the fact that not all historical figures of the cossack era, had lifetime portraits and the ones we have now are mostly of poor quality and historically inaccurate. Instead, the history textbook was adorned with plenty of excellent portraits of european kings, ottoman sultans, and russian tsars. This, in turn, instilled a sense of inferiority in the younger generation. That's why I came up with the idea to recreate and improve existing images and, in the absence of those created during life of the historical figure, create a new iconography based on historical research.
Here, for example, are pages from Swedish history textbooks compared to Ukrainian ones:
Ukrainian teachers of history complain that children cannot distinguish one hetman from another because they all look uniformly identical.
There is an urgent need for portraits for Ukrainian military personnel, as many military brigades are named after Cossack heroes. A special operations brigade is also named after Ivan Bohun. We printed this portrait on canvas for the military command of this brigade, which can be easily transported in wartime, and we also gifted the soldiers T-shirts with his image.
However, unfortunately, there are still many portraits missing of heroes whose names are carried by other military brigades.
For example, Konstantin Ostrozky, a prominent military commander of the 16th century. In the Battle of Orsha in 1514, he defeated a large army of the Moscow Tsardom, ensuring peace in Europe for several decades. His name is assigned to the 30th separate mechanized brigade, which was awarded an honorary distinction for valor and courage. Since 2017, a Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade also bears his name. However, no contemporary portrait of this historical figure has survived to this day. Work on this portrait is currently in progress.
Portraits are needed not only in textbooks but also in the books of historians and writers, on television and YouTube channels, calendars, and postcards.
Recently, a book in the Ukrainian language titled "Treasures of Swedish Archives" was released. This book also illustrated by my portraits. The compiler of the book, Marina Tratner, a ukrainian who has lived in Sweden for many years:
How I create portraits:
The process of creating each portrait, which involves professional historians, costume reenactors, and experts on the Cossack era, takes anywhere from one to three months, depending on the specific case.
In each particular instance, the reconstruction is based on various historical sources.
The initial step involves gathering materials. For this purpose, I seek advice from historians with various areas of expertise:
Dr. Olga Kovalevska, a historian, researches portraits from the past, identifies the era in which they were created, and determines if these portraits are created during life of the historical figure. It can be engravings, images on coins, bells, and more.
Sergiy Shamenkov specializes in researching historical clothing and weaponry.
Candidate of Historical Sciences Oleksiy Sokirko provides research, both his own and from other historians, on my topic. He also advises me on topics related to battles, troop placements, fortresses, and much more, which is necessary for creating the background.
Candidate of Historical Sciences and Ukrainian philologist Volodymyr Panchenko assists with symbolism and selecting historical texts for decorating the frames of the portraits. For example, the falcon in the hand of Hetman Dmytro Vyshnevetsky is a forgotten symbol of Ukrainian Cossacks, and the she-wolf with her cubs near Ivan Sirko comes from a legend about him.
Calligraphy for the frames is separately designed by calligrapher Vasyl Vasilenko.
An interesting story unfolded with the portrait of Ivan Mazepa. According to the research by historian Olga Kovalevska, in 2017, a team of forensic scientists from the Security Service of Ukraine digitally reconstructed his image. Interestingly, it matched my first portrait from 2007, which I created based on the research of art historian Kim Skalatsky. At the time, neither Olga Kovalevska nor her team of forensic scientists knew about the existence of my portrait, as it had not been published anywhere. Thus, we confirmed the accuracy of each other's iconography research.
In the 1960s, there was an exhumation of Ivan Sirko's grave, and anthropologist Halyna Lebedynska made a sculptural reconstruction based on his skull. Using this reconstruction as a reference, I created my painted portrait of Ivan Sirko.
Why is it important to support the "Heroes of Cossack Ukraine" project?
Due to a lack of resources, the project simply stopped. Before the full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, I had plans to create a new series of 10 portraits of prominent Ukrainian historical figures. There were also plans to create 3D models of them. A full-scale 3D model can rotate 360 degrees, which, for example, can help filmmakers understand the appearance, face, clothes and weapons of historical figures.
Such models can be utilized in educational processes through the implementation of immersive technologies (virtual and augmented reality). They can also be used for creating computer games based on historical themes, and more.
This project can help overcome the blurred identity of many Ukrainians who have suffered from russification during the 70 years of dictatorial Soviet rule, with its famines and repressions of everything Ukrainian.
Support for projects like "Heroes of Cossack Ukraine" contributes to the revival and reconstruction of Ukraine and its history, reaffirming that Ukraine possesses a self-sustaining culture, democratic values, and strong support for its sovereignty from its allies.
I would be very grateful for assistance in seeking financial support for my project "Heroes of Cossack Ukraine."
If you have any questions or need further information, I will be happy to provide it.
My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/natalia.pavlusenko