Dali Never Lost Sight of the Masters who Helped make Him Great!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
For the real Dali enthusiast, it’s always enlightening to discover new things about the artist, how he worked, what inspired him.
I think I’ve found an influence that is not commonly cited for comparison when it comes to Salvador Dali’s first Nuclear-Mystical masterwork – the large and richly nuanced “Madonna of Port Lligat” of 1950.
Scholars have typically and sensibly seen the influence in Dali’s painting by the 15th century painter Piero della Francesca’s picture, “The Montefeltro Altarpiece.” Its dimensions are similar to Dali’s canvas, but of course the key element of comparison and influence is the scallop shell from which an egg hangs.
That image is a symbol of birth and purity, and a slight variation of it appears at the top of Dali’s work (which this blogger saw and was very impressed by at the “Dali: The Late Work” exhibition in 2010-2011 at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. I just wish it hadn’t been under glass).
But there’s another work – painted about 20 years after the Piero della Francesca – that, in my view, bears some significant parallels to Dali’s, and thus probably influenced him as well. Dali had a voracious appetite for research. He was a highly intelligent man and explored countless resources in creating his complex, deeply meaningful paintings.
Take a look at “Madonna and Child…” (a shortened version of its full title) by Piero di Cosimo, a Florentine painter who painted this canvas in 1493. The key details here are those that make up the stepped throne on which the Madonna sits, holding the Christ child.
The two sides of the throne can be easily compared with the architectural backdrop in the Dali. And assorted items at the base of the Cosimo painting find something of an echo in the various elements in the bottom portion of Dali’s canvas, albeit in his 1950 work most everything floats in space – representing Dali’s newly found fascination with intra-atomic matter.
What is admirable about the way Dali approached art is that he never lost sight of the debt he owed to his precursors – great artists he admired and emulated. Chief among them were Velazquez, Raphael, and Vermeer. But surely others of the Renaissance, and other periods, also helped shape Dali’s vision.
And not only did Dali never lose sight of these artists’ contributions to art history, but he paid direct homage to them by including elements of their works in his – sometimes unabashedly quoting details quite exactly.
Just one example is how Dali portrayed the Madonna and Child in his 1959 masterpiece, “The Virgin of Guadalupe.” Look at Dali’s work alongside Raphael’s, from which, of course, Dali took unmistakable guidance. The only real change is the supplanting of the Virgin’s face in the Raphael with the face of Gala in the Dali.
Ingeniously, Dali managed to keep alive the great artists of the past, while creating something entirely new and not only unique for his time, but often well ahead of it.