Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Raft of the Medusa

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63(6):602-603. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.63.6.602.
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ThÉodore GÉricault (1791-1824) read the tragic tale Narrative of a Voyage to Senegal in 1816, an account of the extraordinary suffering experienced by J. B. Henry Savigny and Alexandre Corréard and other shipwrecked survivors after abandonment on a raft following the shipwreck of the frigate Medusa. He met with the authors in November 1817 to discuss their ordeal.2 Corréard's and Savigny's account drew universal outrage. Only 15 of 150 of those abandoned on the raft had survived 13 days on the open sea off the coast of Africa until their rescue by the crew of the brig Argus; 5 more died shortly after being rescued. Intrigued by their story, Géricault visited other survivors who had been transferred to hospitals in Paris, France. Corréard, the chief engineer and geographer, and Savigny, the second surgeon, had expected recognition and reward from their government. When it was not forthcoming, they published their story of abandonment by an incompetent captain, a royalist political appointee, Hugues Duroys de Chaumereys (1763-1841), who had little previous navigational experience. Their book described the drastic means they had taken to survive on the raft to a confused public, who was coping with the restoration of the monarchy after Napoleon's final defeat. Following the publication of their book, funds were raised through a subscription on behalf of the survivors that attracted prominent donors, including General Lafayette and the psychiatrist J. E. D. Esquirol.

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Cover: Théodore Géricault (1791-1824), French. Raft of the Medusa, 1819. Oil on canvas, 491 × 716 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library.

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