The Religious Art of Salvador Dalí
The artistic work of Salvador Dalí is enormous, he left along his 85 years of his life an enormous amount of oil paintings, watercolours, engravings, sculptures, jewels, ballet figurines, films, scenography, etc. The making of the complete catalogue of his production is a nearly impossible task. It must be reminded that there are two museums exclusively dedicated to his work, the “Museo Dalí” at Figueres and the “Salvador Dalí Museum” in Saint Petersbourg, Florida (USA).
It suits now to deal the religious painting by Dalí separately in the present centenary year of his birth to unveil the slanted vision just being started to organise by the so-called progressive critics and writers. These individuals only know to highlight the erotic, surrealist and temporally communist Dalí, and they deliberately ignore his religious art, his interest towards the Spanish patriotism and towards the great masters of the XVII century mysticism. It is not possible to consider Dalí as a retaliated of the Franquist régime, when he not only paid lavish compliments to the figure and work of the Caudillo in his multitudinarious lecture in the Park Güell, the night of 29 September 1956. He was decorated with the great Cross of Isabella the Catholic. He was granted an audience in El Pardo, he painted the portrait of Carmen Franco Polo and in one of the plates of “Memories of Surrealism” he represented the two-coloured flag having the coat of arms of the Saint John's eagle. But such those evidences, for some people, are completely inopportune and it is much better to draw a thick curtain over them.
Dalí was a native of Figueres and, like all the people from the Empordà, he was touched by the blowing of the Tramontana (Northern wind) which granted him geniality, anxiety and extravagance, although he had wisdom enough to administer his raptures in a calculated way. In normal conditions he was a sensible and quiet person, but in the presence of journalists, critics or queer people he transformed himself and he used the most picturesque and absurd expressions. Therefore it must be separated the master's grotesque aspect from his work, where an extraordinary wisdom and an unusual professionalism may be perceived.
Along his life he moved within all the artistic movements of every age and he excelled
in all them by the quality of his works. He had an Impressionist starting, then he followed
with Cubists experiences and he entered entirely in the Surrealist movement, to which he
contributed with pieces of high quality.
Parallel to his artistic work, there run a series of changes of drift, thought and ideology. When he was a student in the Academy of San Fernando, he was an anarchist in touch with Luis Buñuel and Federico García Lorca. Then, with André Breton, Max Ernst, Paul Eluard and the rest of members of the group, he approached to communism and he painted the famous canvas “the Six appearances of Lenin in a piano” (1931), to dissent shortly of this group, being him judged and expelled. With his visits to the United States, before and after the Spanish Civil War, he had got a reputation and prestige, which enabled him to work in what pleased him more. Always in company of Gala, his inspiring muse, Dalí established in his definitive personality and since 1948. He manifested in his writings a great interest towards the pictorial techniques of the great Italian and Spanish masters and he devoted himself to the elaboration of great canvases having historical motifs and religious thematic, especially based in the Catholic religion and inspired in the XVII century mysticism. He was granted an audience by His Holiness Pius XII, when he showed him the first version of the “Madonna de Port Lligat”(1950). There, the central figure of the Virgin Mary, having Gala's face, is complemented with architectural and landscape elements suspended in the air, surrounded by a Renaissance like diaphanous and quiet atmosphere, especially related with the works of Piero della Francesca.
It consists in a splendid exercise of perspective following the exact procedures described by Filippo Brunelleschi, Lucca Paccioli, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Ucello o Andrea del Castagno. The cross is no longer an abominable instrument of torture and it becomes a geometrical expression of philosophical kind, having a great depth of symbolism and transcendence.
This painting was signed in 1954 nearly three decades after the death of Antonio Gaudí, who quite surely would have admired the dalinian interpretation of the four-armed cross, which appeared in the gaudinian buildings, being them religious or not. This sort of cross, by the fact of being three-dimensional, embraces all the space and represents the expansion of truth Christ throughout the Universe. Dalí made an ardent defence of Gaudí in the famous multitudinarious lecture in the Park Güell the 29th September, 1956, where he painted the Sagrada Familia with tar over a great canvas and defending the continuation of the Temple works and the immense value of the Gaudí's architecture.
Another combination of geometry and religious painting may be seen in “The Holy Supper” (1955). Christ and the apostles stay there inside a pentagonal dodecahedron, a regular polihedron, which, according to the Plato's disciples, represents the Quintessence, for inside this polihedron the rest of regular polihedra, the cube, the tetrahedral, the octahedral and the icosahedron may be inscribed. They represent the four elements of Universe, earth, fire, water and air. This geometrical portrayals the evidence a not only artistic knowledge of the master, but also a scientific one. Dalí had studied the treatises on nuclear energy, psycoanalysis by Freud and, especially the mystic-geometrical theories by Juan de Herrera through his “Treatise of the cubic body conforming the principles of the art by Raimundo Lulio”, where the mediaeval mystic ideas are joined with the geometrical concepts of the Renaissance. The geometry is equally expressed in the Gothic architecture in his “Santiago de Compostela” (1957) where the raising figure of the horse seen from below, presents the apostle with a sword, which has the shape of Christ Crucified, with the background of the inner face of a Gothic vault, which corresponds to the Dominican church at Toulouse. The vault springs from a central pier at the back of the saint, in an ambience of sky and sea of cobalt blue colour with the inevitable rocks from the Port Lligat.
Previously, in 1946, he had painted “The temptations of Saint Anthony” with the Surrealist forms of the thin and absurdly elongated-legged horse and elephants, which propose a very fitting ambience to the oniric imaginations of the saint being tempted by the devil.
Much more realistic and with a greenish background, he painted the canvas “Assumpta corpuscularia lapislazulina” (1952) where the figure of the Virgin, having Gala's face, contains the one of Christ and also an altar with the Crucifix and two candlesticks. He represented later the “Ecumenical Council”(1960) and “Mystic explosion inside a cathedral. Saint Peter in the Vatican” (1960-1964), completely in the forms of the Catholic religion although, at the same time, he persisted in his portrayals, which didn't have any religious at all, but his capacity to range all the ideas and trends enabled him that diversity of aspects. This painter, which dealt so many different trends, showed a total lack of prejudices, absence of fanaticism and capacity to see and depict in his works of art purely of the moment and politic questions but, at the same time, to deal wisely about scientific and religious principles.
Juan Bassegoda i Nonell