The slave at the Louvre: an invisible humanity

Marcus Rediker explains The Raft of the Medusa by Géricault

Within the framework of the guided tour « The slave at the Louvre : an invisible humanity » imagined by Françoise Vergès, the historian Mark Rediker came to explain The Raft of the Medusa by Géricault.

The slave at the Louvre

Far from searching an illustration of slavery, those visits (which first editions took place in 2012 and 2013) aim to highlight the links between aesthetics, the arts of living and of consuming and the worlds of colonial slavery. The Louvre gathers one of the most impressive collection of european paint between to dates 1793 – date of the first abolition of slavery in the french hill, in Saint-Domingue – and 1848 – date of the second and final abolition of slavery in the french hill. Between these two important dates, in the history of colonial slavery, slave trade and slavery bring to Europe great wealth and make known products that are soon part of everyday life : sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, cotton, precious wood… It matters to see how these objects, produced by slaves, penetrate into painting and become objects of social, cultural and gender representation.

The Raft of the Medusa

In this corpus, The Raft of the Medusa occupies a particular place. Realised between 1818 and 1819, the painting refered to the shipwreck of The Medusa, frigate of the royal sailor, which left in 1816 to colonize the Senegal. The survivors told the story of a raft carrying 150 men to an odyssey that lasted 13 days and spared only 10 lives where settlements and cannibalism were added to the distress. But The Raft of the Medusa was also contemporary with the illegal slave trade, which was still not abolished in the french colonies. By staging black mens among the shipwrecked, Géricault was questioning codes of representation.

Marcus Rediker, author of numerous books about slavery, including Les Révoltés de l’Amistad (2015), explains the painting after an introduction of the visits by Françoise Vergès.

These visites are organised with the programme « L’Ecole du regard » at the Louvre.

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