Explain how Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa exemplifies Romanticism.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In my mind, the most overwhelming element of Romanticism in Gericault's work is its depiction of the natural setting.  Consistent with the Romantic idea that nature possesses its own power that exists outside the realm of humanity, the natural elements are shown as powerful and beyond individual control, leaving only mortality grasping at its coattails.  The rise of the waves are brought together with their crashing on the vessel.  The clouds and overcast skies are contrasted with the sun and the clearing of skies, reflecting how nature is capable of great benevolence along with intense destruction.  The expression of the people in the portrait are both consistent with the disaster in French History that Gericault chose, but also reflective of how individuals are at nature's mercy.  This Romantic reverence of nature is also representative of the idea that humans are secondary to the natural setting, confirmed in the fact that nature occupies a greater presence in the pictures than the flailing humans. Gericault shows both the natural setting and consciousness, in general, as something that exists outside the control of human beings. I think that an interesting Romantic element in terms of the role of the artist is that Gericault has chosen an event of human tragedy as the subject of the portrait.  In doing so, he accomplished a very Romantic view of the artist as one able to bring out the beauty in the most horrific of situations.  The Romantic conception of the artist is one who is able "to see into the life of things," and find beauty in both the redemptive and despairing of human situations.  For the Romantic artist, there is beauty and wonderment everywhere, and the artist should not be afraid to seize upon exploring this condition.

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