Prologue

The Glass Pyramids The Grande Gallerie

There is a vast room on the first floor of the Louvre called the Grande Gallerie which houses the largest paintings in the collection. All of them are incredible works of art in their detail and workmanship but their sheer size is stunning. They are all arranged on the walls in lines so that the visitor can sit and ponder or stroll along looking up at them. Most people seek out the monumental "Coronation of Napoleon" by David or "The Oath of the Horatii" by the same painter --they rarely look for the stunning realism down the hall.

There is one which at first glance appears to have fallen to floor level and to a lover of symmetry can be most annoying. The immense canvas housed of necessity in a frame of tree-trunk like proportions is of a wrecked ship on the horizon while stormy seas divide it from the tortured souls on a large raft in the foreground. The people aboard the raft are in despair - some are dying, some are already dead, some are waving for help - while the whole scene is overshadowed by heavy storm clouds. The artist himself insisted that his canvas should be hung at floor height and his wishes have been adhered to for good reason for it is at this level that the spectator has the impression of being able to step into the raft and the effect is heightened greatly.

The painting is entitled "THE RAFT OF THE MEDUSA" and as sombre and despairing as is the mood it does not begin to approach the level of suffering to which the real life inhabitants of the raft were subjected. Two of the survivors of the raft posed for the painting --- Correard is centre stage at the front of the raft relaying the information that there is a ship on the horizon while Eugene Delacroix also posed as a man lying face down in the foreground.

When the Second Empire fell after Napoleon the Third's defeat at Sedan the Empress Eugenie found herself in exactly the same position that Marie Antoinette had found herself 70 years previously. Eugenie was at home in the Tuileries Palace with a baying mob at the gates howling for blood and there is little doubt that if she had not escaped they would have killed "L'Espagnole" as they called her. Eugenie was persuaded that her only hope was to escape and with a number of faithful aides she fled through the Louvre to escape from the rear of that building. As she ran through the vast rooms of the Louvre most of the paintings had already been removed for safekeeping but Le Radeau de la Meduse still hung on the wall of the Salle des Sept Cheminees and as she passed the painting she was seen to stop and heard to exclaim "How Strange!". The following days found her escaping across the channel where the ship she was aboard endured one of the worst storms in the history of the Channel. Many ships went down that night and Eugenie barely escaped with her life but nobody has yet deciphered what she meant as she passed Gericault's painting in her hour of despair. .

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