Horace Vernet, Mazeppa and the Wolves, 1826

Ivan Mazepa was a Ukrainian-born Russian diplomat who deserted Russian tsar Peter I and sided with King Charles XII of Sweden in 1709. In 1819, British poet Lord Byron wrote a fictional story about Mazeppa (two p’s in the name) as a young man working as a page at the court of the King of Poland, John II Casimir Vasa. At court, Mazeppa had an affair with a Countess and when her husband the Count found out about it, he had Mazeppa tied naked to the back of a horse and set loose. The story recounts how painful the ride was. Vernet at least allows Mazeppa a little modesty in the painting by covering up his most vulnerable parts.

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