Posted by: PaulChimera
One of the triumphant masterpieces in Salvador Dali’s remarkable career is Santiago El Grande (1957) – a painting that, for me, is so powerful, I find it hard to know just what to write about it, or where to begin.
I first saw this immense, nearly 15-foot-tall canvas in the Dali: The Late Work exhibition last summer in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. It was so overwhelming that I literally fell to my knees before it – and nearly passed out! There’s a majesty and grandeur about the work that literally grabs hold of you and can reduce grown men and women to tears. To say the work is awe-inspiring is a gross understatement.
“Santiago El Grande” is Spanish for St. James the Great, and here Dali pays spectacular tribute to the Apostle St. James, the patron saint of Spain. He’s shown astride a monumental rearing steed that rises victorious from the sea, dappled in scallop shells, as his – and the entire painting’s – upward motion signifies Christ’s, and ultimately man’s, ascension toward Heaven. The crucified Christ figure is one of the most glorious ever captured on canvas, complete with radiant bands of eternal light emanating from his perfect form – here replacing the sword often seen in statues of the same heroic theme.
St. James himself has been heralded as one of the finest human portraits ever painted by Salvador Dali, while his prominent foot – looking more three-dimensional the longer you contemplate it – is symbolic of the arduous pilgrimages Christ and his disciples made.
Among other marvelous details in this iconic religious masterwork is yet another portrait of Gala, seen in the lower right corner, her face partially shrouded by her monk-like apparel. And in the hind quarters of the stunningly lifelike horse, we see an atomic cloud burst, reflecting Dali’s interest in then-new discoveries in nuclear physics and his deepening belief that science and Christianity had more in common than had previously been thought. At the center of the atomic cloud mass is a sweetly painted jasmine flower – a symbol of purity and harmony, and a favorite of Dali, which he’d sometimes place behind his ears or upon the tips of his legendary mustache!
Hidden images were Dali’s stock in trade, and Santiago El Grande was not spared this trademark effect. Focus first on the angel seen in the sky, just beyond the horse’s gaze. Now direct your attention to the highlight on the horse’s neck: it’s the exact same angel! Oh, Salvador, how you keep us in awe!