‘Assumpta…’ by Dali has both Beauty & Shock Value!
The impossible-to-pronounce “Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina” helps tells us where the then 48-year-old Dali’s head was at when he painted this spectacular but strange Nuclear Mystical masterpiece in 1952.
Dali was deeply invested in his new atomic period at this time, proclaiming he was “becoming classical” and moving away from Surrealism toward a new vision, a new ethos in painting: the melding of science, religion and mathematics. “Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina” is a great example of this burgeoning period in Dali’s consciousness and his art.
The large work, which I had the great pleasure of seeing at the “Dali: The Late Work” exhibition in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in 2010, synthesizes a number of Dali’s interests, beliefs and obsessions — most supremely that of his adoration of his wife and muse, Gala. She is presented here as the Virgin Mary, rising in a greatly elongated manner that recalls the works of El Greco or perhaps some of the paintings of Bartolome Murillo.
The sphere from which Gala rises is both suggestive of the Earth from which she departs and an atom, the latter a reference to contemporary discoveries in particle physics that fascinated Dali and account for the atomic/rhino horn-like particles that explain “corpuscularia” in the work’s jaw-breaking title.
In the middle of the picture is a magnificently painted Eucharistic table over which the same image of Jesus appears as he does in Dali’s most famous religious painting, “Christ of St. John of the Cross,” which he finished a year before the present work.
Flanking the main focus of “Assumpta” is a mass of swirling rhinoceros horns, some convoluted in a heavy treatment that leading Dali patron A. Reynolds Morse, for one, opined had compromised the beauty of this painting. But no one was going to tell Salvador Dali how or what to paint! And, in my view, this work simply wouldn’t have the same impact, the same “shock” value — the same Dalinian dynamism — had it been devoid of this maelstrom of rhino horns.
While they nod to the artist’s obsession with the logarithmic spiral found in the natural curve of a rhino horn, they also inject the painting with that “Dali difference” I often write about. That special something that lends a kind of shock factor to the experience of viewing a Salvador Dali painting.
Speaking of painting, let’s focus for a moment on the actual technique itself here. First, the portrait of Gala: it is one of Dali’s finest. It’s superbly realistic, and that tactical quality contrasts dramatically with the far more ethereal, transparent and spiritual essence Dali achieved from Gala’s upper chest downward (save for her prayerful hands, which again reveal Dali’s tight craftsmanship).
Just below Gala’s clasped hands is the oculus of the Pantheon we saw in Dali’s work, “Raphaelesque Head Exploding,” (1951) and it draws our eye down towards Gala’s feet in a kind of crystal-like form that further exudes a transparency and spirituality Dali achieved so effectively.