Italian Architect Influences a Dramatic Dali!
By Paul Chimera
Dali writer & historian
What motivated Dali? What inspired him? What was in his head before he set brush to canvas? Intriguing questions – ones often not easily answered.
But today let’s try to answer them as they apply to a work from the 1930s – a period most critics agree was Dali’s most fertile and important period. For the record, I don’t necessarily agree with that contention, since I believe his post-surrealist, Nuclear-Mystical period yielded some of Salvador Dali’s best work.
But clearly in the 1930s a young Dali produced some of his best work. Including “Palladio’s Corridor of Dramatic Surprise” of 1938. This is not exactly a Dali painting that leaps to mind when one thinks about the kingpin of surrealism. It definitely has something of a different feel to it, in comparison to other Dali works.
The year this painting was created, 1938, put things in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. Dali traveled to Italy during this time, and became acquainted and fascinated with the Italian architect, Palladio, and, in particular, with his Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, located in northern Italy.
The photo here of Palladio’s architectural marvel makes it clear that Dali was influenced by the illusion of deep perspective in the long hallway or corridor. Dali depicts this in his painting, together with a reference to the large archway.
The overall tone of the picture is forlorn and melancholic, if not sinister. Strange, rather foreboding figures stand in seemingly endless lines, and our eye is drawn to the young fleeing girl in a white dress at the most distant point in the painting. Up front, a buxom woman rests on a cabinet as she’s handed a telephone by a partially visible figure lying on the ground, perhaps in a state of defeat or anguish.
Telephones have symbolized communication breakdowns in other so-called war pictures of Dali, inspired by the telecommunications, for example, that occurred between Nevil Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler during WWII.
Dali reportedly visited Sicily during this time and saw Palermo’s catacombs, where, propped against the walls, one could see an array of mummified corpses. It’s a good bet that they inspired the dreadful-looking figures lining the corridor in Dali’s dramatic canvas.
The foreground cabinet reminds us of another great Dali painting – “Espana” (“Spain”), which employs one of the artist’s best double-images as it, too, makes a pictorial comment about the Spanish Civil War. The drawers seen in the present work were oft-seen elements in Dali’s surrealist paintings, reflecting Freudian symbolism suggesting hidden desires and perhaps unknown mysteries. At the time, Dali, like everyone else, didn’t know what the outcome of the civil war would be, but was of course deeply concerned about it and anxious because of it.
On a more painterly level, the overall tone of “Palladio’s Corridor of Dramatic Surprise” exudes a kind of dark, even sort of menacing reality, which serves well Dali’s intention to make a comment about a conflict that would change his native Spain, and the course of history, forever.