Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris)
1868–69Oil on canvas31 3/4 x 26 in. (80.6 x 66 cm)
My great-great grandfather, Bertsche Tsitov, practiced emergency medicine in Russia. During the Russo-Turkish war, he was compelled to serve as a medic (I’m not sure how much choice he had in the matter.) He returned home with stories of fighting the Bashi-Bazouks, which have since been passed down the generations. Actually, only one has reached my generation (and I’m fairly certain it has only reached me – no one else asks about the family history), and it is a fabrication.
After fighting a series of battles with the Bashi-Bazouks (of course Bertsche didn’t do any of the fighting), the Russians captured the Bashi-Bazouk company leader. The man was enormous and musclebound, superhuman. He was to be executed by firing-squad. When the time came, however, the firing-squad’s bullets simply bounced off of the Bashi-Bazouk leader’s perfect chest. Something sharper than a lead round was needed to pierce his muscles. Bertsche’s stores, however, had what was needed. The soldiers loaded their rifles with hypodermic needles, and subsequently executed the company leader with ease.