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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. 

Petro Kalnyshevsky


Petro Ivanovych Kalnyshevsky (Kalnysh) was the last kish otaman of the Zaporozhian Host. He was born in the village of Pustoviitivka (today in Romny raion, Sumy oblast). The question of Kalnyshevsky’s ancestral background remains unanswered. Researchers assume that his father was not locally born and that his mother was a descendant from the Romny company, Lubny regiment. Most probably, the family was of Cossack status but poor.

Nothing is known about Petro Kalnyshevsky’s activities before he joined the Cossack Host (Sich). According to a legend, he was just a child when he arrived at the Sich, but in reality, he had to have been a young adult. The earliest documented references to Kalnyshevsky’s presence at the Sich are dated 1754, when he was already military osaul (officer). In 1756 his name could be found in the register of Kushchiv kurin (a military and administrative unit). Beginning in the mid-1750s Kalnyshevsky served in various capacities: along with his primary post of osaul, he performed the duties of an operational colonel and a military judge. In 1762 Petro Kalnyshevsky was elected kish otaman for the first time. Afterwards, his career was interrupted for a few years until 1765, when—contrary to the wishes of Empress Catherine II—he was again elected kish otaman and would retain the mace for the next ten years.

In protecting the territory and landholding rights of the Zaporozhian Host, Petro Kalnyshevsky took part in three diplomatic missions to Saint-Petersburg (1755–56, 1762, and 1765). Concerned about populating Zaporozhian lands, he encouraged peasants from Left-Bank Ukraine, Right-Bank Ukraine, and Sloboda Ukraine to resettle in Zaporozhian territory. He regarded the establishment of more homesteads and winter camps as a means of restraining the encroachment of Russian landowners on the autonomy of the Zaporozhian Host Sich. In his lifetime, Petro Kalnyshevsky was well-known as a patron of the Orthodox Church. He funded the construction of the Holy Trinity Church in Pustoviitivka, the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin Mother of God in Romny, Saint Nicholas Church in the town of Smila, and others.

Petro Kalnyshevsky’s military talent and his personal bravery—especially during the Russo-Turkish war of 1768–74—were recognized by the tsarist government and by the empress herself, who awarded a gold and diamond medal to him. In 1773 Petro Kalnyshevsky was given the military title of lieutenant-general in the Russian army. However, already in July 1775, following the destruction of the New Sich on the orders of Catherine II, Petro Kalnyshevsky was sent to be “humbled” to the Solovetsky prison monastery. He was only later released by Tsar Alexander I on 2 April 1801, but by that time Kalnyshevsky no longer had the health and physical strength to be able to return to Ukraine. Petro Kalnyshevsky spent the remaining years of his life in the monastery. He died in 1803 at the age of one hundred and twelve and was buried in the Solovetsky monastery.

In the 1990s an attempt was made to find the kish otaman’s remains or to at least return his tombstone to Ukraine, but the efforts nevertheless failed due to the disapproval of Russian secular and church authorities. It was only possible to find his burial site in 2002. In July 2008 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate canonized Petro Kalnyshevsky and recognized his remains as holy relics. In 2015 employees at the Russian Institute of Archeology conducted an exhumation and a medical anthropological analysis of the skeletal remains from the site. The reconstructed image of the kish otaman by Russian researchers remarkably coincided with the imagined portrait painted by Natalia Pavlusenko in 2011.




History of painting the Petro Kalnyshevsky portrait.


The portrait of the kish otaman that I painted in 2011 was based on his image as it appeared in the icon “The Shroud of the Virgin,” dating from the 18th century. Since the figure of Petro Kalnyshevsky was depicted among several other representatives of the Cossak starshyna, it was necessary to be creative in portraying his image. For my source I took the 2008 portrait of the kish otaman painted by Vasyl Vasylenko in the style of the late Baroque period.
It is interesting that following the 2015 exhumation of Kalnyshevsky’s remains on the Solovets Islands, Russian scientists, who were looking for iconographic sources to which to compare the image they had reconstructed based on anthropological findings, mistook my portrait of Petro Kalnyshevsky for his lifetime image! It is incredible, but medical anthropological laboratory research conducted by Russian scientists demonstrated a complete alignment of facial features of the skull with the ones in the portrait painted by me. This strange coincidence is nothing short of a miracle.

Translated from Ukrainian by Iryna Fedoriw
English language editing by Jars Balan

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