Dali’s ‘Trinity’ Especially Meaningful this Time of Year
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Given the real reason for the season, let’s today look at Salvador Dali’s wonderful – and unusual – “The Trinity,” which was an oil study for “The Ecumenical Council,” both works created in 1960.
“The Trinity,” while a preparatory study for the much, much larger “Ecumenical Council,” in the permanent collection of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, is itself of museum quality. Indeed, it can be found in the permanent art collection of Vatican City in Rome.
There is, in my view, a paradox of sorts in the way Dali treated the three figures of the Trinity: God the Father in the top center, Jesus Christ at left, holding a cross; and the Holy Spirit at right. Normally any image of God would, in theory, be the least distinct of the Trinity figures, since no one really knows quite what the Creator looks like – and that is by design.
Yet, in Dali’s view of it all, God is clearly distinct in body, while his face is shielded, just as it is in the finished masterwork. Contrasting with the relatively tight rendering of God is the far looser, sketchier technique seen in the Christ and Holy Ghost images.
This approach nodded in two distinct directions: the nuclear age, with atomic particles whizzing through space; and the close-up brushwork technique seen in the details of some of the paintings of Spanish master Diego Velazquez, whom Dali considered his all-time favorite artist and greatest influence.
Interesting enough, all three figures in the study appear remarkably similar to those in the “Ecumenical Council.” Notable differences, however, would be that Dali rendered facial features of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And, while male genitalia is obvious in the study of God, that anatomical region is fully obscured in the final painting. A dove appears over the head of the Holy Spirit, but is absent in the study.
More so than in the final canvas, the figures’ robes in the study look very much like the rocky outcropping in the lower portion of the Dali Museum work.
Of course, the major difference between the study and the 118-inch x 100-inch painting is Dali’s wonderful self-portrait in the latter. When I was publicity director of the original Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, near Cleveland, I remember a lecture about this painting, delivered by Eleanor R. Morse. She, along with her husband Reynolds, owned the collection and went on to become the benefactors of the collection now permanently housed in St. Pete, Florida.
Eleanor was talking about Dali’s then-current work with holograms, and opined that Dali had, in effect, already achieved the illusion of three-dimensionality in the way his right hand seems to project from the canvas in “The Ecumenical Council.”