A manifesto of romanticism

A manifesto of romanticism

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Title: The Raft of the Medusa.

Author : GERICAULT Théodore (1791 - 1824)

School : Romanticism

Creation date : 1819

Date shown: 1816

Dimensions: Height 491 cm - Width 716 cm

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: Photo (C) Louvre Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier

Picture reference: 12-586766 / inv 4884

© Photo (C) Louvre Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier

Publication date: March 2016


A manifesto of Romanticism


Historical context

In June 1816, The Admiral Medusa, a forty-four gun frigate, left the island of Aix under the orders of the Comte de Chaumareix, an emigrant who had not sailed for years. On board, Governor Schmaltz, sent by


to retake Senegal, returned to France by England after the

Treaty of Vienna of 1815


Badly managed, she ran aground on July 2 on Arguin Bank, north of Cap Blanc, in the Atlantic Ocean. Without oars, provided with soaked biscuit and wine for only food, they take place on a makeshift raft (20 m × 7 m), hauled by the lifeboats, under the responsibility of midshipman Coudin. When the brigArgus comes to help them, only ten men can be revived.

The count of Chaumareix appears before the Conseil de guerre in Paris. He decides to defend their cause.

Image Analysis

The painting was treated at length and passionately in a large workshop in Neuilly. At Beaujon Hospital, Géricault studies the faces of the dying, cadavers and amputated bodies, seeking the truth of suffering and the force of expression. He dreams of a great subject, conducive to the epic ardor of Michelangelo. He had models posing among which Joseph, the fashionable black man, friends including a patient, and Delacroix. The surviving carpenter makes him a small replica of the raft. For the sea and the sky, he goes to Le Havre.

Géricault paints with verve, with tight strokes and with little means the final episode, the victory of life over death. A harsh harmony of muted tones and a subtle play of light create a stormy atmosphere. On the raft put in perspective, the bodies make up a large pyramid of which a black man waving his shirt forms the top. The main lines of the painting converge towards this point: movements, attitudes, sea.

In the shade of the torn sail, near the mast, Corréard shows Savigny a tiny point on the horizon: the saving brig. One group rises, another rises; some are dead, others are dying. Géricault alternates between bodies seen in full and in half, naked or veiled, heads raised or lowered - one is even submerged, at the bottom of the canvas -, torso on his back and torso facing the floor - that of Delacroix.

The eventful scene remains academic: classic nudes, plastic and vigorous reliefs, precise contours. Its ordering in secure bases, in distinct lines and in harmonious chords stabilizes it.

The concern for historical reality and true detail gives way to synthesis and suggestive color. The flesh has the greenish and pallid tint of death. The bitumen used to darken the tones now threatens to eat up all colors.


Liberals opposed to the monarchy saw in it a political meaning, the symbol of the drift of the French people ruled by a reactionary king.

Critics spoke of a careful synthesis of literary and artistic quotes from the past, or a realistic manifesto against it

neoclassical idealism

. We also saw in it a symbolic work on the meaning of life, the fierce resistance of the human will to the elementary forces of nature.

Géricault defended himself from all these interpretations, retaining only the allegory of horror and the courageous and humanitarian act of a citizen in the face of human suffering. The choice of this historical subject opens the way for romanticism.

Delacroix will be inspired by it


  • allegory
  • romanticism
  • living room
  • drama
  • Delacroix (Eugene)
  • Michelangelo


Charles Baudelaire, Romantic art, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, reed. 2001.

Germain BAZIN, Theodore Gericault, t. 6, Genius and Madness. The Raft of the Medusa and the Monomans, Paris, Wildenstein Institut, 1994.

Klaus BERGER, Géricault and his work, Paris, Flammarion, 1968.

COLLECTIVE, Painting at the Louvre, 100 masterpieces, Paris, RMN-Hazan, 1992.

Louis MERLLIE, "Cannibalism and the sea", Neptunia, no 114, 2nd quarter, 1974.

COLLECTIVE, The Romantic Years. French painting from 1815 to 1850, Paris, Grand Palais, 1996.

To cite this article

Malika DORBANI-BOUABDELLAH, "A manifesto of romanticism"


Video: Romantic Period Music


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