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Commentary on The Raft of the Medusa by GÉRICAULT and analysis

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The raft of the jellyfish: commentary and analysis

The Raft of the Medusa It is a large oil painting that constitutes one of the great works of the Louvre. One of the great works of Gericault (1791–1824), one of the most important painters of French Romanticism, as well as being a controversial painting with a terrible and dramatic story behind it. It is a painting that generated great controversy both because of its subject matter and because of how Géricault painted the painting.

In this lesson of unPROFESOR.com we offer you a comment from the raft of the jellyfish and analysis, We also tell you all the history and curiosities that are behind this work of art. French romanticism.

The Raft of the Medusa is a large oil on canvas signed by one of the pioneers of romantic painting, Jean-Louis André Théodore Gericault, French painter disciple of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin and teacher of Delacroix.

theme of The Raft of the Medusa

It is a contemporary event and really lurid and controversial: the wreck of the Medusa ship off the African coast. The painting was a complaint against the government for the negligence committed by the captain of the frigate, belonging to the French navy and close to the conservative government. The government censored the news and did not allow it to be published. Géricault's painting was the means used by the painter to show the general public how everything had happened. The scandal was served.

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The tragedy is one of topics of interest to romantics. Man before his fate and at the mercy of the forces of nature and facing what is beyond him. The landscape thus becomes one more protagonist of the romantic work of art. To do this, Géricault chose the most dramatic moment: when the castaways try to attract the attention of a ship that is being watched in the distance. The survivors struggle to stand on a wrecked platform, littered with the dead, waving their shirts trying to be seen.

Composition of the work

The composition is built on a main axis marked by a diagonal which is marked by one of the corpses, in the left zone, and which extends to the shirt that flutters in the hands of another castaway with skin tanned by the sun. Another second diagonal is drawn in the opposite direction from the body in the right corner to the inflated sail.

The two diagonals cross in an X, also showing us a series of linked poses of all bodies A group full of dynamism that imbues the work with drama and that recalls the baroque compositions of Caravaggio or Rubens.

The drawing and the outline

Géricault uses a drawing full of details to show us the victims of the shipwreck, while the sea and the sky are reflected with a few loose brushstrokes. Here, too, the influence of caravaggio by introducing reddish tones in some areas on the shirt and the sail, using light to create a dramatic atmosphere and reminding us of the typical tenebrism of this Baroque painter.

With several points of light, the painter manages to recreate that atmosphere full of hopelessness and death by drawing attention to the dead in the foreground, to the survivors or to the man waving his shirt. In the background there is a strong glow on the sky full of clouds and illuminating the whole scene.

Space and landscape treatment

Regarding the space and the treatment of the landscape, Géricault tries to focus all the attention on what happens on the raft and to achieve this, the painter opted to adopt a high point of view. A point of view that allows you to show the expressions of the survivors, while the upper part of the canvas reserves it to represent that stormy sky. A landscape reminiscent of the charged skies used by Tintoretto.

It is also appreciated influence of Caravaggio and Tintoretto in its mastery of anatomy the use of marked foreshortenings and great expressiveness in gestures and movements. His desire to bring realism led Géricault to become obsessed with carrying out anatomical studies. constants of corpses from the morgue to give credibility to the painting by recreating the bodies of the shipwrecked dead.

The Raft of the Medusa: Commentary and Analysis - Analysis of The Raft of the Medusa

This work by Géricault constitutes a preview and manifesto of the romantic style by addressing both a typical topic of that school and displaying his techniques. Thus, in this work we are facing a tragedy in which man succumbs to the forces of nature, while, technically, Géricault used mannerist and baroque resources such as:

  • Diagonal Compositions
  • He tenebrism
  • The foreshortenings
  • Etc

A trend that moves away from neoclassicism and that will inspire other artists like Delacroix. Therefore, Delacroix will be inspired by Géricault for the creation of works such as Freedom guiding the people. A style to which he will add other influences such as the type of brushstroke used by artists such as Rubens or Velázquez.

Another interesting aspect of the work is the introduction of a historical episode to carry out a revolutionary critique and question the truths established by official history and defend revolutionary ideals.

The Raft of the Medusa: Commentary and Analysis - Commentary on The Raft of the Medusa

it all started in 1816 when four French ships left the port of Rochefort in order to colonize Senegal. But the trip was cut short for La Medusa to drift away from the rest of her and get stranded on a sandbank about 50 miles offshore.

The captain of the jellyfish, Hugues Duroy de Chaumerey, arranged for the passengers to be evacuated according to their social status, embarking on the six lifeboats the wealthiest, while the rest were relegated to a 20x7 raft that would be towed by the boats. Something that stayed in the attempt, leaving the raft adrift.

The boats managed to save themselves and reach the coast, while the castaways on the raft were rescued 13 days later by the Argus, another of the ships that made up the flotilla. on the raft only 15 people were left alive, all in a sorry state. The survivors narrated to the doctor Henri Savigny and the shipowner Alexander Corréard the hell they had lived through, from suicides to cannibalism, hunger and dehydration.

French society was shocked by the drama and King Louis XVIII was forced to launch a military trial against the captain of La Medusa for his negligence and the abandonment of the crew.

The story was censored to cover up the negligence of the frigate and the captain, linked to the government conservative, but Géricault made this painting to publicize the story and its social scandal that it entailed for the country.

How did Géricault represent this historic moment?

  • He decided to show us just the moment the castaways sighted the ship, the Argus, which would rescue them a few hours later. On July 17, 1816 in the morning.
  • The raft measured 20x7 meters and housed 150 people. Gericault reproduced the real raft from the descriptions made by the survivors.
  • Gericault he put 4 more castaways of the existing ones up to a total of 19. Only 15 survivors remained on the raft.
  • The couple that are supposed to be father and son are an older man holding the corpse of a 12 year old boy. The child would have died about 5 or 6 days before the arrival of the Argus.
  • Géricault asked his friend Delacroix to pose for a portrait of one of the castaways. The corpse lying under the child.
  • Also a black soldier is depicted who was in charge of throwing the corpses and the sick into the water during that nightmare.
  • Some French noblemen wanted to buy the work with the intention of destroying it, but he ended up buying it King Louis XVIII to donate it to the Louvre, museum in which it is located in ancient times.
  • Gericault put socks on your feet of some of the characters after the fact.
  • Phe painted the painting before he was 30 years old, he passed away at 32, becoming an uncomfortable painter for the French state. In his eagerness for realism, the painter came to take the dead from the morgue to his house: severed limbs and even decapitated heads. With those remains he assembled a replica of the raft by piling them there and making some chilling sketches.
  • Historical painting took a new direction and the painting represented a pyramid structure on an unstable base, the sea. A structure in which feelings ranging from resignation to hope are reflected.
The Raft of the Medusa: Commentary and Analysis - History of The Raft of the Medusa and Meaning
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