The Raft of the Medusa

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Why is it important that the handling of compositional space, light, and dramatic theatrical effects contribute to the theme of desperation? Its beauty lies in its horror. It is a painting which the eye can easily divide into smaller and ever smaller units, each one of which requires – perhaps even seems to demand – feverish attention from the onlooker, quite as feverish as the terrible ocean, which is buffeting the doomed raft itself. •It is a painting of tumultuous bodies, reaching out, turning, twisting, and contorting, much seemingly in desperate conflict with each other, which coheres as if by some miracle. •There is so much of it, and it engulfs the eye to such an extent – it is almost as if the eye (mimicking the raft itself) seems to drown in it, as if the ocean is threatening to upend the raft in our direction so that this horrifying mess will shortly be our mess. Such is our horrified absorption. Such is this vertiginous scene of terrible and uncontrollable chaos, with its oceanic rocking motion. •A striking feature of the painting is the interlocking triangles: • The figure at the apex of the pyramid, who is waving a flag to a distant ship, is an African man; a very uncommon choice at this time in history. •The people on the raft are divided into four groups:

the dead and dying are at the center,
then there are those struggling to stand up,
a third group is comprised of three figures huddled together by the mast with one gesturing • The fourth group is capped by the African waving the flag. •The figures in the foreground display deep anguish and despair while the faces of the more active figures are a bit blurred or hidden in shadow or not seen at all •Powerful X-shaped composition

One light filled diagonal axis stretches from bodies at the lower left up to the figure of the black man, raised on the shoulders of his comrades and waiving a piece of cloth towards the horizon •The cross-axis descends from the storm clouds and...
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