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© Copyright

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

© Copyright

2021, canvas, oil, 100 X 80 cm. 

Ivan Mazepa

(1639 – 1709)

Ivan (Adam) Stepanovych Mazepa was a statesman, politician, military leader, and benefactor. According to apocryphal data, he was born on the family estate in Kamianka (today Mazepyntsi village in Bila Tserkva raion, Kyiv oblast); a different version states that he was born in Bila Tserkva itself, where his father was in Polish government service.


Ivan studied at the Kyivan Mohyla College and probably also at the Jesuit College in Warsaw. He started as a valet for the Polish-Lithuanian King Jan II Casimir Vasa, whom he accompanied to Paris in 1659 for the celebration of the Treaty of the Pyrenees. In the early 1660s it is likely that he travelled in Europe, improving his knowledge of European languages, including Latin, and studying engineering and gunnery. In 1663 Ivan Mazepa returned to Ukraine, married, and in 1669 entered into the service of Petro Doroshenko, the Cossack Hetman of Right-Bank Ukraine. Mazepa carried out diplomatic missions to Crimea in 1673 and to the Hetman of Left-Bank Ukraine, Ivan Samoilovych, in 1674.


According to apocryphal sources, while on a diplomatic visit with the Turkish sultan in the summer of 1674, Mazepa was captured by the Zaporozhian Cossacks under otaman Ivan Sirko. Following this escapade, Mazepa went over to Left-Bank Ukraine to serve under Hetman Samoilovych. He initially started as a “notable military fellow” and eventually proved himself and was promoted to be general osaul (aide-de-camp).


After the Crimean campaign failure and subsequent arrest of Hetman Ivan Samoilovych, in 1687 Ivan Mazepa was elected hetman of Left-Bank Ukraine by a democratic vote and with the approval of the tsar’s government in Moscow. Hetman Mazepa actively supported Muscovy in its war against the Ottoman Empire and Crimea (1687, 1688–89) and against Sweden during the initial period of the Great Northern War (before 1708). In 1700 he was awarded the Order of St. Andrew and received honorary status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1707. For the whole time of his hetmancy, Mazepa supported church building, art, and education in Ukraine, and maintained Orthodox affairs beyond the Hetmanate’s borders.


Gradually, because of constant interference by the Muscovite government in the internal affairs of the Hetmanate and the tsar’s intentions to enact radical military reforms, Mazepa began to lean toward breaking away from Muscovy. Thus, in 1705 he established ties with King Stanisław Leszczyński of Poland, and subsequently with King Charles XII of Sweden. In 1708 secret negotiations resulted in a provisional alliance with Sweden and the Hetmanate’s commitment to provide military assistance to the king in campaigns against Tsar Peter I. However, Mazepa’s efforts to ally with Sweden against the tsar did not win the favour of the majority of the Cossacks, who were intimidated by the Muscovite propaganda. The hetman retained the support of only part of the Cossack starshyna (officers) along with an 8,000-strong Zaporozhian Cossack army under the command of Kish otaman Kost Hordiienko. Having lost the Battle of Poltava in 1709, Mazepa and his closest supporters were forced to retreat into the Turkish-controlled territory.


Ivan Mazepa died in the night of 22 September 1709 in Varniţa (Moldova) near Bendery (today in the self-declared Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, or PMR). Initially, Mazepa was buried in Varniţa and then he was reburied at St. George’s Monastery in Galaţi (today in Romania) in March 1710. Today, several key portraits depicting Ivan Mazepa’s credible likeness have been identified. As a historical figure he remains one of the most attractive characters to write about in literature, and his image continues to inspire portrait painters.



History of painting the Ivan Mazepa portrait


This portrait of Ivan Mazepa was produced based on historical research by Kim Skalatsky, published in Poshuky, znakhidky, vidkryttia, (Kyiv: Rodovid, 2004). Given that after the decimation of Baturyn (1708) and the Battle of Poltava (1709), all portraits of Ivan Mazepa were destroyed upon the orders of Tsar Peter I, Mazepa’s appearance was researched consulting various sources (descriptions provided by French diplomats and Swedish soldiers), as well as by analyzing the portraits of Mazepa that have survived to date.


An interesting event took place in 2016 in connection with the image of Mazepa. Dr. Olga Kovalevska publicized the results of her 2007 study of iconography in a popular science film series, Ukraїna: Povernennia svoieї istoriї. This study identified those portraits of Mazepa that were proven to represent the same person. This was done in cooperation with experts from the forensic crime unit of the Academy of the Security Service of Ukraine. On the request of the film producers, the research study attempted to reconstruct a schematic, generalized image of the hetman based on selected portraits. The reconstructed image turned out to bear a close resemblance to the one that I had created earlier, in 2007. It is interesting to note that the research team working on the reconstruction of Mazepa’s image in 2016 had no knowledge of my work. Such a coincidence is supportive of both reconstruction projects—scientific and artistic—being based on identical iconographic and written sources and thus leading to the confirmation of a realistic image of this historical figure.


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 Ivan Mazepa

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