Formal Analysis of The Raft of the Medusa

8 August 2016

The Raft of the Medusa, is extraordinary: exhibiting an intensity that sets it apart from all other works to date. Upon viewing this piece, it becomes immediately apparent that there is a tense struggle being depicted by Gericault. When one lays their eyes on this piece, they are guided along a fading beam of light shining upon the raft, from the bottom left of the painting to the top right. This guide, of sorts, occurs naturally as a result of the dramatic contrast of light and dark.

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The character lying half-submerged in the ocean and the sail placed in upper left quadrant of the piece counter-balance the weight of the bright light stretching from lower-left to upper-right. Such an arrangement contributes a sense of spatial recognition, or depth, and ocular movement is created by this element. There is a distinct foreground, middleground, and background. The makeshift raft that is barely keeping its occupants afloat makes up the foreground and attracts the majority of the viewer’s attention. The middleground and background is designated by the bluish-green hue of the waves juxtaposed with the yellowish-gold sky.

A horizon is created by this color contrast. These elements are brilliantly comprised, allowing any spectator to immediately comprehend the sorrowful event, or action, taking place in Theodore Gericault’s, The Raft of the Medusa. Movement is further addressed through the soft, meandering lines used to portray their clothing and the sail. Inarguably, these lines are intended to illustrate the poor weather conditions and raging seas. They also do the favor of hinting towards the movement of the characters themselves. In addition, the composition is dramatized even further through sharp changes in value.

This contrast does two things for the piece: infers that the sun is setting, which generates a sense of immediacy, while also brightly illuminating the figures. Both add to its overall power and aesthetic. To fully experience Theodore Gericault’s poignant masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa, one must stand in front of the original. At twenty-four feet across and sixteen feet high, the painting’s sheer size is astonishing. Combined, the dramatic scene being depicted, and Gericault’s talent, it is truly something that cannot be ignored. Frankly, there is no amount or combination of words that could do the painting justice.

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