Friday, December 10, 2010

Raft of the Medusa, Gericault 

The work of Theodore Gericault by the name of The Raft of Medusa does not continue in this vein of using art to endorse wars and other governmental actions.  Instead, this massive painting, measuring sixteen by twenty-three feet, speaks to the disgust Gericault felt towards government officials. Their actions not only prompted the deaths of over one hundred frigate passengers because of bureaucratically-motivated promotions, but they also refused to take responsibility for these actions by promoting the captain of the poorly directed frigate. The powerful X-formation of this painting grips audiences initially. The prominent X, using elements of the raft and the human bodies themselves to create the shape, sits directly in the center of the page and draws the eye along its diagonal slope--forcing the audience to take in the poorly-constructed sail, the bloated dead bodies, and the desperate appeals for help by those still barely living. By angling the raft, Gericault brings the reality of the raft closer to his audience, transforming their viewing space into a space into which the dead could potentially slide. This entire piece reverberates with the horrific quality of the event, from the dark colors to the tumultuous ocean waves and the general sense of collapse. Gericault even uses this piece to comment on another controversial political piece of his time: slavery. “The artist was a member of an abolitionist group that sought ways to end the slave trade in the colonies. Given his antipathy to slavery, it is appropriate that Gericault placed Jean Charles, a black soldier and one of the few survivors, at the top of the pyramidal heap of bodies” (Kleiner, 788). This painting does not elicit the same praise for government action as does The Death of General Wolfe, because the fact that it could have been avoided and such a massive number perished overshadow the small number of passengers that actually survived. For Gericault, art was indeed a way to communicate his opinion of current events, and in this case, opinions of distinct displeasure and disappointment. 

1 comment:

  1. Could it be that Gericault got it wrong in his protest of the new monarchy's ineptness and it really not be responsible for the appointment of this incompetent captain? And misinformation that effected public opinion? Sound familiar.