‘Explosion of Mystical Faith…’ Exudes Powerful Religious Dynamism
By Paul Chimera
Like what they say about a person’s eyes, Dali’s paintings were, in effect, windows to his soul. They reflected his interests, his passions, his fears, his endless curiosity as a creative colossus.
“Explosion of Mystical Faith in a Cathedral” is something of a mirror reflecting Dali’s focus at this time, 1957; namely an emerging affinity with the Catholic Church and what he was coming to believe was the key to unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos. “Heaven can be found exactly in the middle of the chest of the man who has faith,” Dali proclaimed.
In the middle of Rome’s St. Peter’s Cathedral, Dali depicts an ethereal, saintly vision with sinuous robes, floating high above a group of human figures. Several of them rise off the floor like souls ascending toward heaven, guided by this transparent, angelic figure.
Inspiration from those before him
Dali’s ideas came from a wide range of sources and influences. In the case of “Explosion of Mystical Faith in a Cathedral,” it appears certain he was inspired by a 19th century painter who we generally don’t often consider when we look at Dali’s more notable precursors; that is, artists like Velasquez, Vermeer, and Raphael.
But in this case, it surely was “The Apparition” by Gustave Moreau that provided the primary inspiration behind Dali’s dynamic picture. In the 1876 painting, the head of Jesus Christ appears in mid-air, from which brilliant rays of light emerge. The backdrop is the interior of a cathedral, and given that Dali held Moreau in very high regard, it is highly unlikely that this stunning painting was not behind Dali’s motivation to depict a similar religious vision.
A kind of ‘electric’ dynamism
Three key technical approaches are represented in this Dali painting – a painting I’d wager most Dali collectors and admirers are only vaguely familiar with, if at all. Impressive realism is achieved in the architectural details of the iconic cathedral. It’s believed Dali’s talented studio assistant, Isodor Bea, lent a significant hand in this part of the composition.
Next, the handling of the saintly apparition herself – convincingly transparent to evoke a wonderful sense of spirituality and mysticism.
And then there’s the heavy, almost blinding rays of light shooting from the core of the figure, echoing closely the manner in which Moreau symbolized the life-giving light and brilliance in his figure of Christ. Dali used a heavy impasto (a build-up of paint) to highlight this aspect of the scene. There seems to be an almost electric aura to the image, doesn’t there? You can virtually feel the energy, the penetrating, dynamic explosion of faith that brings us back to the title itself. And I believe Dali literally “flicked” his brush just so to create the kind of spontaneity and sense of movement and energy this part of the painting exudes.
“Explosion of Mystical Faith in a Cathedral” is, in this blogger’s view, one of Salvador Dali’s least known paintings – but truly one of his most powerful and stunning works, combining, realism, surrealism, and mysticism.