Théodore Géricault - The Raft of the Medusa

by Alexandra Tuschka

The imposing painting depicts a crowded and fragile raft on the sea. Not only the theme is unusual - the painting also stands out from so many others with its size dimension of more than 35 square meters.


The men pile up in a pyramid shape. The uppermost man waves a white cloth, drawing attention to himself. The reason for the hope is only very small on the horizon recognizable - who is not standing in front of the huge canvas, must now squint his eyes. And indeed, a small ship can be seen.

Only in front a bearded man is completely unimpressed by the approaching rescue - he mourns the dead man at his feet.


Hard to believe, but what the French painter Géricault put on canvas is based on true events:

In 1816, the frigate "Medusa" was sent to Senegal to protect the colony. However, the Medusa suffered shipwreck. The controversial Captain de Chaumareys ordered the construction of a raft that would hold about 150 people. The 6 lifeboats that were on board of the Medusa were supposed to pull the construction. After a short time, however, the ropes were cut and the people on the raft were left to their fate. Terrible conditions soon prevailed, and two survivors even reported cannibalism later in their testimonies. After twelve days, the raft was salvaged with only 15 people alive.


The French saw the event as an "allegorie réelle" and equated the "Medusa" with the "ship of state." Therefore, the allusion of the painting, which Gericault carefully called "Scene of a Shipwreck", was well understood by contemporaries and exhibition visitors.


Théodore Géricault - The Raft of the Medusa

Oil on canvas, 1818 - 1819, 491 x 716 cm, Musée de Louvre in Paris

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