The Raft of the Medusa Analysis

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            Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) was the painter behind the raft of Medusa, an 1818-1819 work of painting measuring 16 by 23 by 6 inches (716 by 491cm). The colossal scale adopted in the painting make numerous forms life-sized. Foreground figures are close to double life-size, are thrust near the image surface and crowd onto audiences, thus drawing viewers to the substantial action as partakers. Gericault was French idealistic painter cum lithographer. The oil painting illustrates an instance from the naval frigate’s wreck consequences.  The French vessel was stranded off contemporary Mauritania’s coast on July 5th 1816. No less than 147 persons used a hastily assembled raft to drift. Virtually all, excluding 15 survivors, perished before they were rescued 13 days later. Survivors faced dehydration, starvation, madness and cannibalism. This tragedy drew a lot of criticism partly because it was widely associated with the ineptitude of the French commander. The painting illustrates a horde of frantic men adrift on a small number of wooden planks, attempting to draw the interest of a small, far-away vessel by brandishing their tops

            Despite the fact that The Raft of the Medusa’s subject theme choice and dramatic presentation contain concepts of the customs of narration painting, it signifies a change from then-existing Neoclassical school’s order and calm. Its influence is seen in Eugene Delacroix, Gustave Curbed, Edouard magnet and J. M. W Turner’s works.

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            Gericault’s masterpiece has elements of a establishing of naturalistic aspect and supplementary shifting to a dramatic depiction of current occurrences on print, events that did not usually require a fundamental hero, according to the painter.  The Raft of the Medusa depicts such influences and also Peter Paul Reubens and Michaelengalo. The painter borrowed the concepts of death, battle and torment themes from Michelangelo, Gros and Reubens.

.           Gericault’s theme is the French vessel’s (Medusa) survivors’ torment. Gericault deliberately chose this widely known event with potential to arouse immense public attention and assist boost his profession. The ship, full of Algerian migrants, had originated from Africa’s west coastline. The episode was occasioned by disastrous mismanagement and it elicited outrage within France after survivors recounted their ordeal. The painter utilized shock strategies and thus stunned audiences’ sensibilities. Gericault valued The Raft of the Medusa’s accuracy so much that he undertook phenomenal research and accomplished many groundwork inquests for the masterpiece; he even interviewed two wreck survivors- Alexandre Correard and henrys Savigny. The artist’s commitment saw him visit hospital and morgues to obtain first-hand glimpses of the texture and color of the dead and dying. (

            The crude raft appears as being hardly seaworthy and the survivors are depicted as being in absolute despair and broken. One survivor grasps his sons corpse on his lap while another pulls his locks out in defeat and frustration. Several corpses are at the forefront, ready to be sent adrift by waves. The middle men have got a glimpse of a salvage vessel and one, while standing on an unfilled barrel, anxiously brandishes a handkerchief to attract attention. The work’s graphic composition is based on two pyramids. The outline of the left big canvas mast is the initial pyramid. The horizontally-grouped dying and dead forms at the front constitute the foundation from where survivors appear, rushing upwards on the way to the moving climax, when the middle figure anxiously gestures towards a salvage vessel.

            The attention of the audience is initially pulled towards the middle of the canvas, and then trails the directional stream of the bodies of survivors, seen from the rear and stretching towards the right. One straight slanting rhythm emanates from the base left dead bodies to apex survivors. Additional two diagonal axes add to the spectacular tension. The first trails the pole plus its ropes and guides towards engulfing the improvised raft. A second line, consisting of reaching forms, guides towards the far-away Argus- the rescue vessel’s silhouette (Riding, 2004, 26).

            The painting has pale flesh qualities as well as murky hues of clouds, survivors’ garments and the ocean. Generally, them masterpiece is gloomy and heavily depends on utilization of solemn, typically brown pigmentation, to imply pain and tragedy. The lighting employs an aggressive dark and light contrast.  Even the sea’s depiction is silenced by utilizing shady green as opposed to deep azure hues. The distant salvage vessel emits brilliant light which illuminates dim brown view.

Gericaults portrayal of the episodes torment was misconstrued by French authorities as a direct political assault. However, Gericault shunned depicting the grossly terrible elements of the disaster, including, cannibalism intense hardship and murder. He chose to portray the spectacular occasion at what time the anxious castaways tried to draw the interest of a far-away vessel that ultimately saved them. Gericault depicted fifteen sailors plus a number of corpses piled on top of each other and suffering immensely.  Death and despair is powerfully illustrated owing to the X arrangement of the corpses. A single fully illuminated diagonal line extends from the corpses at the bottom left corner to a black male’s figure, propped on comrades’ shoulders, and brandishing a cloth piece in the direction of the horizon. Another line, crossing the first, drops from tempest clouds and a top left gloomy, wind -packed sail towards the silhouetted trunk of a corpse sprawling in the ocean (

Despite the fact that Gericaults survivors had stayed for thirteen days in the sea and experienced disease, cannibalism and hunger, the painter honors gallant painting customs and depicts his forms as healthy and muscular. Many figures appear almost nude because Gericault tries to evade un-pictorial outfits. An academic theme about the forms is depicted as they done depict weakness arising from disease, fighting death and deprivation.

The paintings 1819 debut appearance at the Paris Salon as Scene of Shipwreck, proved very controversial by drawing equal amounts admiration and disapproval. It made a major political announcement attesting to the fact that the inept commander was an untested sailor. It was regarded as a pessimistic condemnation of the unskilled malfeasance of French post-Napoleonic bureaucracy, majority of which was conscripted from existing families of the primeval regime.  London exhibition of Gericault’S masterpiece ensued. However, the masterpiece built Gericault reputation and is widely regarded as influential in French painting’s Romantic Movement (Aldehalff, 2002, 52).

Gericault intentionally wanted to be artistically And politically confrontational. Detractors reacted to Gericaults aggressive stance by either praising or repulsing him, as was determined by whether Gericaults sympathies favored liberal or bourbon viewpoints.

Gericault’s masterpiece amazed the masses generally, though its theme repulsed many. Gericault was thus denied the well-liked acclaim he desired. At the exhibition’s close, a gold award was granted to the work, yet the referee board, declined to additionally praise the work by selecting it for Louvre’s nationwide collection. Gericault was instead granted a payment on the theme of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. he secretly offered Delacroix the full award and marked Delacroix’s complete painting as own. Gericault went back upcountry and fell down d from fatigue. Gericaults work, thus lacked a buyer and was pushed back and kept at a pal’s studio.

            The painting was highly esteemed and was adopted by Sodomy, the Lash and Rum as cover. The song “the wake of the Medusa” by Jem Finer was written in honor of the painting. The Louvre obtained the painting after Gericaults death at 32.

The Raft of the Medusa merges numerous Old Masters’ influences Including Michelangelo’s (1475 to 1564) Last Judgment, Antoine-Jean Gros (1771 to 1836) and Jacques-Louis David (1748 to 1825) to current events. Shipwrecks were already a prominent marine art element by the 1700s because of their common occurrences and also because sea travel was common. Claude Joseph Vernet developed numerous such representations and attained naturalistic hues by way of face-to face observation unlike contemporaries (

Gericaults resolve to depict the disagreeable truth, through The Raft of the Medusa, laid a basis for an artistic revolution in opposition to existing neoclassical approach and heralded the start of French painting’s Romantic Movement. His composition organization and portrayal of forms exhibit classical characteristics. However, the different subject turbulence signifies a major modification in creative trends and generates a vital link between romantic and neoclassical styles. The Brussels-exiled Jacques-Louis David became a key popular narration painting genre proponent and an expert in neoclassical approach as at 1815. Narration painting and neoclassical approach painting progressed in France by way of artists like Dominique ingress, jean Auguste, Francois Gerard, Pierre-Narcisse Guerin and Anne-Louis Girodet de rosy –Trioson (Miles, 2007, 16).

Immediately before the 1819 Salon, the unique mix of typical and realistic perspectives, introduced by David’s discipline, was losing interest and animation. Girodet was generating images of amazing frigidity. Gerard adopted the innovative fashion for huge historical pictures, though lacking enthusiasm. The Raft of the Medussa embodies gestures and huge scale characteristic of conventional narration painting. However, the painting depicts normal people, responding to an ongoing tragedy, as opposed to heroes. It conspicuously is short of a champion and thus depicts mere survival (Miles, 2007, 35).

The Raft of the Medusas influence went beyond France; it inspired a British artist,   Francis Danby, in painting his 1824s Sunset at Sea after a Storm. Danby described The Raft of the Medusa as the grandest and finest historical image he had ever observed.
Works cited

Aldehalff, Albert. The Raft of the Medusa: Gericault, Art, and Race. Prestel Publishers, (2002)

Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. Retrieved on 17th April 2009 from

History House: The Raft of the Medusa. Retrieved on 17th April 2009 from

Miles, Jonathan. The Wreck of the Medusa. Atlantic Monthly Press, (2007).

Riding, Christine. Staging the Raft of the Medusa.  Journal: Visual Culture in Britain, vol. 5, issue 2, (2004)

The Raft of the Medusa. Retrieved on 17th April 2009 from

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