I’m not sure if anyone else had to do this, but when Nighthawks and The Raft of the Medusa were mentioned I had to look them up to get any semblance of what Dante was talking about. Though I realized I had seen Nighthawks before, but I definitely have not seen or heard the supposed story behind “The Raft of the Medusa.” If you remember, Dante wrote in his letter to Ari the following: “Did I ever tell you what my favorite painting was? It’s The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault. There’s a whole story behind that painting.” Today I just wanted to explore that story a bit and see how it could relate to the novel.
The painting the Dante loves so much is, by most art historians, believed to be an icon of Romanticism. The painting depicts the wreckage of a French frigate off the coast of Senegal in 1816 while carrying over 150 soldiers on board. Géricault got inspiration for this painting by talking with two of the survivors of the wreck. The French Royal Navy frigate set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal. The captain of the ship had not sailed in twenty years, so from his lack of practice, he managed to ground the ship on a sandbank accidentally. Because of this failure, the soldiers were forced to take lifeboats to the nearest shore, however, due to a shortage of lifeboats, the remaining 150 soldiers were forced to make a raft out of materials on the marooned ship. After 13 days at sea and making that death trap, only 10 soldiers survived of the initial 150. There was a lot of cannibalism that ensued while they were stranded for those 13 days.
- Many believe that the painting The Raft of the Medusa “stands as a synthetic view of human life abandoned to its fate.” What do you think the author is trying to say with that being Dante’s favorite book?
- Is the painting Nighthawks important to the narrative at all? What affect does this allusion have on the narrative?