The Shoes and Symbolism of Dali’s ‘Original Sin’
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
One of the most surprisingly simple and tranquil paintings by Salvador Dali – while at the same time one that’s puzzled and confounded many Dali enthusiasts – is his interesting little oil on canvas, “Original Sin,” painted in 1941.
Copyright Gala-Dali Foundation
The work is technically brilliant, really showing off Salvador Dali’s consummate draftsmanship. Look at the way he handled the veins in the woman’s foot. And the textured nuances of the old, worn pair of shoes. And the bejeweled, serpentine ankle bracelet: Dali realism at its finest.
The sterile background seems to leave something to be desired, one might claim. However, when we consider the symbolism in this work, the sort of blank slate backdrop makes perfect sense.
According to author Kristen Bradbury, in her book, Essential Dali, shoes for Dali “represented sin, based on the idea of the foot being the starting point of all sin.” Thus, it’s as if Dali were starting from a position of nothing – a sort of barren Garden of Eden. No cypress trees or craggy landscapes or any other creatures or outcroppings. Just an essentially empty space, save for the beautifully executed shoes and the temptress’s lovingly painted foot with its life-like adornment.
My astute friend and fellow Dali scholar Dr. Elliott King reminds me that the ankle jewelry in “Original Sin” is the same one gracing the wrist of Gala in the stunning 1944 “Galarina,” also in the collection of the Teatro-Museo Dali in Spain.
That shoes should occupy front and center here accords with Dali’s undeniable fetishistic interest in them; he incorporated shoes in a host of paintings, drawings, and objects. A short list would include “Cannibalism of Objects – Woman’s Head with Shoe” (1937); Paranoiac Metamorphosis of Gala’s Face” (1932); “The Sense of Speed” (1934); his iconic shoe hat for fashion icon Elsa Schiaparelli; and the sculpture, “Scatological Object Functioning Symbolically (The Surrealist Shoe)” of 1931.
Invariably, Dali’s works made direct or indirect references to other artists, most especially those he most revered: Velazquez, Vermeer, and Raphael — in that order of importance to Dali. But there were certainly many other great artists Dali admired, emulated, or otherwise nodded to in his paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, and objects.
Dali undoubtedly pondered the scruffy boots of Van Gogh (seen here) when he was intellectually preoccupied with his “Original Sin” canvas.
What stands out for me, when considering the present Dali painting, is how the Surrealist master’s mind went in so many directions. He was unpredictable, to be sure; one never quite knew just what would end up on his easel. In a period when Dali was creating some of the most Freudian-informed pictures in the annals of Surrealism, he delivers a lovely little oil like “Original Sin,” one of the many gems in the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain.
[Bible reference contributed by Dr. Elliott King]