The Raft of Medusa

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Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1819

Perhaps one of the few paintings of the period that depicts an actual event as it really happened. The Raft of the Medusa depicts the survivors of a early 19th century version of the Titanic. The Medusa was a 40 gun frigate ferrying officials between France and Senegal. Because this was an age where someone with enough wealth could do just about anything they pleased, the captain had little prior naval experience and promptly ran the ship into a reef. The resulting wreck left around 400 people alive, 300 of which departed in life boats leaving the other 100 to fend for themselves on a raft. Eventually supplies ran out, which leftno choice but to cannibalize the dead, dying and lightly wounded. When the Argus discovered the raft days later only 15 survivors were rescued.

After reading about the disaster Gericault became obsessed with the event. Believing it to be the ultimate argument against the ruling class, an inept captain responsible for the death for tens of peasants. In fact Gericault refused to leave his studio while painting the tragic event, bringing survivors and rotting corpses from the morgue to get the correct amount of morbidity in the painting. Originally the Argus appeared in the right hand potion of the painting, but doing so would make the painting less depressing.

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