13 incarnations of Taras Shevchenko

March 9 Ukraine celebrates the 203rd anniversary of the birth of the famous Ukrainian artist Taras Shevchenko. The figure is so monumental, that in the international arena it is comparable with Goethe, Dante, Cervantes, Byron or Hugo.

UCMC collected a variety of roles Shevchenko had to try for his life.

Kobzar. It is not only the most famous book by Shevchenko (only in Soviet times, total circulation exceeded 8 million). In Shevchenko’s time, it was a way of life, way of thinking and chosen life journey, much alike medieval troubadours who were the voice of the people and justice, who translated the truth, regardless of the will of a higher power, both secular and clergy.

Serf. From the very beginning of his life Shevchenko did not belong to himself, as he was born in a family of serfs. This fact determined the life of the poet from the beginning and for the next 26 years.

When Taras was nine, his mother died. Two years later his father passed away. Subsequently, Shevchenko became the property of Pavlo Engelhardt, who inherited Shevchenko and the whole village, which previously belonged to his father.

With Engelhard, Taras served as a houseboy, later they traveled to Vilno and St. Petersburg. At the time, it was a common practice among the nobility to have their own artists, so his master sent him to the painter Vasily Shiryaev to learn painting.

Child of three cultures. Thanks to the time he was born and the conditions he lived in, Shevchenko became the product of intercultural synthesis. He comprised of his native Ukrainian culture, the one of Warsaw-Vilno, where he traveled with his owner Mr. Engelhardt, and that of St. Petersburg, where he completed his education and finally formed as a person and an artist.

Commodity. In 1831, Pavlo Engelhardt sent his serf to St. Petersburg, where he hoped to educate him to the level of a professional painter.

It was in St. Petersburg where Shevchenko met the environment of cultural elite of that time. Contemporary artists Vasily Zhukovsky, Karl Bryullov, Aleksei Venetsianov were the people who not only praised the talents of young Shevchenko, but did everything in order to buy him out from serfdom. Bryullov painted a portrait of Zhukovsky and sold it for 2,500 rubles, a huge sum of money in those days. It was the money that bought Shevchenko freedom.

Soldier. In 1846, Shevchenko joined the secret political Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius. In a year because of the anger of Tsar Nicholas I for Shevchenko’s offensive attacks Shevchenko was not only sent into exile as a private soldier into “Orenburg wilderness”, but also prohibited to write and paint. It was a cruel punishment for a talented poet. The reasons behind this were both personal (in his poem “Dream” Shevchenko called Nicholas I “my teddy bear”, so simply destroying the imaginary greatness of a ruler, and the entire state and government) and political, as Kobzar had repeatedly stated that Ukraine, like other states, should get autonomous status, and its capital should be not in St. Petersburg, but in Kyiv). However, the officers whose subordinate was ordinary Shevchenko made his life quite bearable. He slept and ate separately from other soldiers, often visited “dinner parties” and other “aristocratic meetings”. Neither did Shevchenko comply with the ban on writing and painting as most of his novels Taras wrote during the exile.

Cupid. A young neighbor girl, who was the poet’s first love, a model, a princess, a daughter of the pastor, a wife of a landlord, actress, maid, and this is not the whole list. Sometimes the fate, sometimes the artist’s moral principles prevented Shevchenko from experiencing the happiness of love.

Aristocrat. People like Shevchenko had different values, different culture and ethics. This is, first of all, Cossack aristocratic attitude to money, freedom from material goods. When you can throw gold ducat to a beggar, as once did Shevchenko in Kyiv because he had no other money, and the next day he could not afford even a loaf of bread. And it did not matter for accumulation of money was not in among the Cossack virtues. This was the aristocratic ease.

Dandy. Shevchenko is often painted as a sort of mustache guy in a hat and a peasant’s overcoat. Researchers of the artist’s biography disagree with such a one-sided interpretation of his figure. Shevchenko was a Democrat in his heart and disliked excessive pomp. But while living in St. Petersburg, where he became a fashionable portraitist and started earning good money, Shevchenko dressed quite fashionably. In particular, in his diary he wrote about the special pleasure of purchasing rubber mackintosh, which then was worth 100 rubles.

Revolutionary. Shevchenko came when Ukraine needed the revolution: mental, cultural and revolution in the streets. He became a Ukrainian analogue of the French Revolution, contributing to society radically new ideas built on democratic principles. In one of his most famous poems, “Testament”, Shevchenko makes allusion to the French Revolution and the current anthem of France – “La Marseillaise” (“And water with the tyrants’ blood, The freedom you he gained”).

Philanthropist. The property inventory made after the poet’s death showed that Shevchenko had only 143 rubles in cash. And shortly before he bought for Marko Vovchok, a young writer whom Shevchenko admired, a gold watch worth 500 rubles, and did that in such a way that she would not learn who the patron was. The watch was presented allegedly from Ukrainian community of St. Petersburg.

Artist. Most Ukrainians perceive Shevchenko as a poet. However, the word “artist” would explain and demonstrate the whole Shevchenko more accurately as a poet, novelist, painter, sculptor, musician, philosopher, actor.

The traditional word “poet” rather hides the “fighter” behind it, because Shevchenko’s poetry turned out to be the most effective tool to fight the regime.

Bolshevik. This is the image of the poet created by Soviet propaganda. This perceived a number of goals. First, the elimination of power of his words and the true purpose and call for the struggle for a free Ukraine. Second, strengthening their own ideas, manipulation of Shevchenko’s texts. This includes the alleged antireligious worldview, ascribed to him by Soviet authorities, and the fight against remnants of the tsarist regime (though despite the common ideas Shevchenko and Soviet power had different purposes). An image of a typical farmer was created to that end: in a coat, hat, and with thick mustache, a peasant’s son and representative of working class, simple and understandable for everyone.

Symbol. He was more than a poet, artist or person. He was a prophet. Unquenchable torch showing the path of Ukrainian ideas and identity on the way to their independence.