Ivan Aivazovsky’s painting “The Landing of N. N. Raevsky at Subashi” (and the attached colour and black and white photographic reproductions from the painting) depict the Battle of Subashi, one of the myriad battles between the Circassians and Russians in the area of Sochi between the late 1830s and the early 1860s. The battle took place at the mouth of River Shakhe in Subashi, Shapsughia (modern Tuapse and Lazarev Districts of Sochi, in a gorge on the outskirts of Golovinka), on 3 May 1939. In the summer of 1939 Aivazovsky was invited by N. N. Raevsky, a high-ranking officer in the Russian Black Sea Fleet, to capture the scenes of the war with the Circassians on his canvas.
Portrait 1: “The Landing of N. N. Raevsky at Subashi”, by Ivan K. Aivazovsky, 1839. Oil on canvas, 97 × 66 cm (38.2 × 26 in). Provenance: Samara Art Museum, Samara Oblast, Russia.
Portrait 2. Black and white photographic reproduction from Aivazovsky’s painting “The Landing of N. N. Raevsky at Subashi”.
Portrait 3. Colour photographic reproduction from Aivazovsky’s painting “The Landing of N. N. Raevsky at Subashi”.
Brief description of the Battle of Subashi
The 2nd Squadron of the Russian Black Sea Fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Lazarev, consisting of five battleships, five frigates, one brig, and two steamers, carried a landing party of 6,600 troops, under the command of Lieutenant-General N. N. Raevsky, with the intention of establishing a beach-head and eventually control the area through constructing fortifications on the Circassian coast of the Black Sea. The Russian Black Sea Fleet ships shelled the Circassian coast prior to the landing to provide smoke cover for the operation. Assault troops were brought ashore on rowing boats under the command of Captain V. Kornilov.
The Russian troops had barely managed to reach the shore, when they were rushed by more than a thousand Circassians, who had been hiding in the thick forests by the shore, and who rushed to the plain quietly, without firing their firearms. The Russians were at first taken aback by the unexpected attack, and they barely had time to unload the two mountain guns. Two Circassian leaders, riding on white steeds, bravely rushed ahead of the Circassian horsemen. A battalion of the Tengin Regiment rushed to counter-attack, but the Circassians, snatching their sabres, boldly went forward. At this very moment, a Russian officer at the head of a troop of marines appeared from the bushes in the forest, attacking the Circassians from the flanks, with the thud of the drums and shouts of “Hurrah.” The Circassians stopped in their tracks and started shooting and attempting to retreat. But it was too late – flanked on both sides by the Russians, they were forced to gradually retreat, fighting desperately in the process.
From May to September 1839, three fortresses were built in the vicinity, namely Golovinskoe, Lazarevskoe, and Raevskoe. In February 1840 the Circassians captured and razed fort Lazarevskoe, within six weeks through March, three more Russian strongholds, Golovinskoe, Velyaminskoe, and Mikhailovskoe, fell. Effectively, the southern section of the Caucasian Black Sea Line was isolated. However, the Circassians failed to capitalize on these successes, with their troops dispersed, deeming the operations to have been over and victory guaranteed. This short-sightedness turned over the initiative from Circassian hands squarely into those of the Russian Generals, who launched a counter-offensive, and recaptured Lazarevskoe and Velyaminskoe. Thirteen Shapsugh villages were razed to the ground in punishment.
Ivan K. Aivazovsky (1817–1901) was an Armenian marine painter who served in the Russian navy. His “The Landing of N. N. Raevsky at Subashi” is one of his more famous works.
“Circassian Culture and Folklore”