‘Giant Flying Mocha Cup…’ as Enigmatic as Dali Himself!


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Today’s Salvador Dali painting is one of his most enigmatic: “Giant Flying Mocha Cup with an Inexplicable Five Metre Appendage.” It’s pure surrealism and quintessential Dali – punctuated with Freudian symbolism and nodding to the Swiss Symbolist, Arnold Bocklin (who died three years before Dali was born).


For reasons that shall forever reside with Dali himself, this 1946 canvas bears a striking resemblance to one he painted in 1932, titled, “The True Painting of the Island of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin at the Hour of The Angelus”


The “Mocha Cup” canvas is aptly named, in that the strange and ultra-long appendage curiously emanating from the cup seems “inexplicable,” although it’s undoubtedly intended to be a phallic reference. Correspondingly, Sigmund Freud’s seminal book, “Interpretation of Dreams” – which Dali read religiously – makes it clear that receptacles (the cup, in this case) were symbolic of the female genitalia. That Dali was reflecting his preoccupation with matters sexual comes as no surprise. The levitating cup (levitation was another theme with which the artist was preoccupied) hovers above a stone block that features marble inlaid circles, in the center of which is the head of a Medussa.


Also suspended in space – a reflection of Dali’s consuming interest at this period with intra-atomic physics – is a pomegranate – a symbol of resurrection and fertility.


While sex was a recurring interest for the Catalan master, his preoccupation with death was no less prominent. That’s where Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead” painting comes in. A desolate, rocky islet tucked within a dense grove of cypress trees, which two enigmatic figures are approaching by boat, struck a lifelong chord in Dali. Its dark, melancholic nature inspired a number of Dali works, including the distant, cliff-like island formation in Giant Flying Mocha Cup….”  Cypress trees have long been associated with cemeteries and mourning.


Dali was inspired by Bocklin's "Island of the Dead"

Dali was inspired by Bocklin’s “Island of the Dead”

The enigmatic figure approaching the horizon line, swathed in a manner as to make its gender ambiguous, may be a nod to the similarly cloaked figures in the Bocklin picture.


Finally, we can be certain Dali was taking a surrealistic approach to demonstrating his interest in mathematics and, in particular, the Golden Section or Golden Ratio (see diagram). That phenomenon can be discerned in the circle on the block of stone in Dali’s painting here, as our eye follows the curve upward and counter-clockwise through the “inexplicable five metre appendage.”


Ironically, one of the reasons some detractors disliked Dali was because he was too complex for them. His work often demanded deep study and the awareness and understanding of a multitude of concepts and references. For me and many others, however, that is precisely what we so admire about Dali. His work makes us wonder…think…look beyond the obvious….and discover.








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