The Discovery of Venus
35" x 52"
The desperate survivors in Gericault's huge, fact-based Raft of the Medusa were originally waving to the distant gunboat that rescued them. On July 2, 1816, a French frigate carrying soldiers and settlers to the colony of Senegal was wrecked on a reef off the African coast. It became a major scandal because of the incompetence and cowardice of the "aristocratic" captain: only fifteen survived of the 150 he had abandoned on a jerry-built raft to face 13 days of insanity, mutiny, and cannibalism. The painting, which did much to undermine the Davidian tradition of glorifying human will and heroic action, was a great success. Who knows what fantasies filled the horizon until the moment of rescue? THe ultimate barroom nude, by Cabanel, presents itself as one possibility.