Musée du Louvre
In its brutality, realism, and raw emotion it captures the essence of a historic event that shocked the French public, a Revolution-weary public that was not easy to shock. The story behind the painting is as devastating as the desperation on canvas.
The Medusa was a French naval vessel that was on course off the coast of Africa during the Neopoleic Wars. After three days of trying to free the ship from where it was stuck, the crew and passengers took to the ship's six small lifeboats.
The problem was that there were 400 people on board, while the boats only had the capacity to carry approximately 250. As a result, 146 men and one woman were loaded onto a wooden raft that was both shoddily and hastily constructed.
With limited supplies, the people adrift experienced a hellish 13 days at sea. There was a great deal of infighting, with many people being thrown overboard, throwing themselves overboard, or cannibalized.
By the time they were finally rescued, only 15 men had survived. This caused a huge scandal at home due to the slow response of the French government in the rescue.
The action is arranged in two distinct pyramidal shapes. The diagonal lines lead the eye to two key peaks: the wave that may or may not engulf the survivors on the raft, and the flag in the top right corner that is raised in a last gesture of hope to the ship that may or may not rescue them.
For the amazingly life-like and eerie quality to the bodies, Géricault worked figure by figure, completing the sketching and painting of each body before moving on to the next one. He had closely studied cadavers in the local morgue, bringing home severed limbs and heads.
Géricault employed live models, mainly friends and assistants, to pose for him in the cadaverous poses. He painted directly from these live models instead of from preparatory sketches.