The plot of this masterpiece of the great Russian artist is well known: Zaporozhye Cossacks write a response to the proposal of the Turkish sultan to move to the side of the Ottoman Empire. The text of this answer, full of the most refined insults to the address of “the lord of the brilliant Porta”, is also preserved. Before us, such a “brain storm” – the process of writing the answer to the Sultan.
The composition of the picture is a clearly expressed center, around which the author builds several “circles”, filled with different semantic content.
In the center there is a scribe. It is hardly the only one who has a literacy. Judging by the clothes – this is a seminarian from the Cossacks, who undertook to state the answer of the Cossacks on paper. The creation of this letter clearly gives him pleasure. The scribe expresses his joy with sufficient restraint, as befits a man a “scientist”.
Consider the “near circle”. Over the figure of the clerk hung a Cossack with a pipe in his hands. Apparently, this is one of the main inspirers of the Cossacks. He is depicted in a moment of thinking about another exquisite abusive word against Mohammed. Another second and a new line... of the message will be devised. Further clockwise, the Cossack was suppressed with laughter, followed by another Cossack woman, which almost falls from laughter, then a half-naked Cossack, with pleasure savoring every word of the letter, a pair of loudly laughing warriors, a Cossack without a smile on his face, still a young Cossack, with pleasure taking part in the process of writing the answer.
In the outer “circle” two figures are especially noticeable: a laughing Cossack in red zhupan and a gloomy Cossack with a bandage on his head. They seem to be opposed to each other. On closer examination, not all Cossacks succumbed to joy and fun. Here, there are depicted anxious, serious, frightened faces. Zaporozhets with a bandage as if imagines future struggles with the Turks, the future losses. Next to the laughing big man in red zhupan, the artist painted a skeptical Cossack in a yellow headdress. In his view, condemnation and anxiety.
The Cossack is also skeptical in orange, peeping out from under the hands of a laughing Cossack in the center. However, anxiety and skepticism are in the obvious minority here. The atmosphere of the picture was laughter, daring, confidence, courage – the main qualities of the soldiers of the Zaporozhye Cossacks.