Sunday, March 11, 2012

Salvador Dalì: Renaissance-inspired Surrealism

Portrait of Salvador Dalì, Philippe Halsman, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres

Rome’s first exhibit celebrating the life and work of Salvador Dalì in almost 60 years opened this week at the Complesso Vittoriano. While I am always up for a new exhibit, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be blown away by this one. I showed up at the exhibit expecting to see some melting clocks and such. I don’t think it’s a mystery to anyone who reads this blog what my artistic preferences are. I have absolutely nothing against Surrealism, but it doesn’t exactly boil my blood either.

Nevertheless, this exhibition did. I didn’t realize how greatly Dalì was directly inspired by Italian Renaissance art for so many of his works. As the exhibit takes place in Italy, it’s not a surprise that they stressed this particular detail at the press conference, but I didn’t imagine to what an extent it was true. Imagine my delight when the first work I encountered was this:

Madonna of Port Lligat (first version), Salvador Dalì, 1949. Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee

Why, hello, Piero della Francesca, what are you doing here? I love quoting in art, just like I love it in music. When I discovered that the haunting melody from Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto was echoed in the 1970s pop ballad All by myself by Eric Carmen, I was thoroughly delighted, and although you cannot exactly compare 70s pop with the likes of Dalì, this work caused the same shiver of recognition. Although both Madonna and Child are completely different, the shell and the suspended egg are unmistakable.

Madonna and Child, enthroned with saints (Brera Altarpiece), Piero della Francesca, 1472. Galleria Brera, Milano.
Even more unmistakable is Dalì homage to Michelangelo's first Pietà. He called it a "geological echo" due to the many rock formations that are unfortunately not very visible in this reproduction.

Geological Echo: The Pietà, Salvador Dalì, 1982. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres

The Pietà, Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1497-99. St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

Study for Atomic Leda, Salvador Dalì, 1947. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres
I adore this unexpected combination of Leonardo da Vinci's Leda and the Swan and Vitruvian Man.

Leda and the Swan (copy), Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1515. Galleria Borghese, Rome

Dematerialization near the nose of Nero, Salvador Dalì, 1947. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres
Dalì's inspiration by Italian art was not limited to works of the Renaissance as this "dematerialization" of the nose of Nero shows. The work was accompanied by the bust of Emperor Nero from which Dalì took his inspiration.

Destino: Large Head of Greek God, Salvador Dalì 1946. Walt Disney Animation Studios, Burbank
This still from the Disney short animated film Destino, co-created by Dalì is a fantastical recreation of this bust of Zeus from Otricoli that is on display beside it.

Head of Zeus, 1st century BC Roman original, Antiquarium Comunale, Otricoli

Elephant with Obelisk, Salvador Dalì, 1946. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres
Anyone who has spent more than a little amount of time in Rome would recognize the elephant carrying an obelisk that was born from the unparalleled imagination of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. But surely only Dalì would have thought to add spiders' legs to the elephant.

L'elefantino, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1667, Piazza Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

Self-portrait with Raphaelesque Neck, Salvador Dalì, 1921. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres
Dalì felt a particular affinity to Raphael, even going so far as to call him his altar-ego. This self-portrait shows just how much he admired him, that he even strove to resemble him. "I let my hair grow long, as long as that of a girl, and looking at myself in the mirror, I loved to assume that melancholy expression, the fascinating stance of his self-portrait. How I would have liked to look like him!"

Self-portrait, Raphael Sanzio, 1506. Uffizi Gallery, Firenze

All of these Dalì works are part of the first section of the exhibit, far and away my favorite. But the exhibit also goes on to explore his later years with works that came solely from his own ingenious imagination and perspective, like the "soft" self-portrait below.

Soft self-portrait with grilled bacon, Salvador Dalì, 1941. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres
See my Exhibits on Now page for information on when and where to visit this brilliant exhibit.

Photo sources:
1, 13, 15: provided courtesy of Comunicare Organizzando Press Office
other sources:  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14

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