Vasily Surikov: The Morning of the Streltsy's execution (1881)

(Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia)

This great historical painting shows the an event during the reign of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, the Streltsy Uprising of 1698. The Streltsy were infantry units created in the 16th century by the Russian Tsar Ivan IV 'The Terrible'. These units were armed with arquebuses, bardiches etc and were considered elite units. Over time these Streltsy became a power behind the throne and in 1682 they attempted to prevent Peter the Great from coming to the throne in favor of his mentally disabled half-brother, Ivan. When Peter the Great was on a scientific tour in western Europe in 1697-1698, the Streltsy-regiments of Moscow (about 4000 men) rebelled once again. the reason for this rebellion is unclear, according to some historians is was an reactionary rebellion against progressive innovations of Peter the Great. The rebellion was crushed by the Scottish general Patrick Gordon (who was in Russian military service). Peter the Great cut short his tour and returned to moscow to punish the rebels with savage reprisals, including public executions and torture. The paintings shows this part of the rebellion. On the right on horseback we can see Tsar Peter the Great, with his advisors standing next to him. the left we can the the Streltsy on carts, their family and loved ones surround them in agony.  this event is taking place in the Red Square, the large Saint Basil's Cathedral is at the back. The stone platform on the left is the Lobnoye Mesto. About 1200 Streltsy were executed and about 600 were sent into exile. The Streltsy-regiments were disbanded. Painting from 1881.

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