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Theodore Gericault

The Raft of the Medusa


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On July 2, 1816, the French frigate Méduse sank off the coast of Mauritania. Of the 147 people who took refuge on a makeshift raft, only twelve survived, fished out two weeks later by a ship that came to rescue them. The affair made the headlines in the newspapers, and two of the survivors published a book describing fifteen days of ordeal, between  hunger, dehydration, madness and cannibalism.

Théodore Géricault, fascinated by this story, decided to make it the subject of a spectacular painting that was nevertheless faithful to reality. Problem: he doesn't know

nothing to the sea, and even less to shipwrecks. Far from being discouraged, he gave himself the means to achieve his ambitions: not only did he carefully read the work of the two survivors, but he also convinced them to participate in the design of his painting. He even built a life-size model of the raft in his workshop, and invited several survivors to pose for him. Finally, thanks to a doctor friend, he obtains amputated human limbs in order to study their appearance and color. It is at this price that he will sign, at the end of a year of work in extreme conditions, one of the  major works of French art. 

What we can take away:

We often assume that if we don't have sufficient expertise in a particular area, we lack legitimacy.  to venture there. This is to forget that this knowledge is available around us: it is  to seek help from the right people and to get the information where it is.

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