‘Virgin of Guadalupe’ Exudes Stunning Photographic Quality
By Paul Chimera
At the risk of repeating myself, let me emphasize how important Salvador Dali’s technical mastery as a draftsman was to the impact of his paintings. A truly superb example is “The Virgin of Guadalupe” of 1959.
The photographic precision with which Dali painted this large masterwork convinces us that what we’re seeing is real, not imagined. Just as the Virgin revealed herself to be real when, according to tradition, Mexican peasant Juan Diego saw a vision of a young woman on Dec. 9, 1531.
While he was on a hill in the desert near Mexico City, the woman told him to build a church on the exact spot where they were standing. When he told the local bishop, Diego was asked for proof, and the lady told him, “Bring the roses behind you.” When he turned around, he saw roses growing, which he cut and placed in his poncho. He returned to the bishop, noting he brought proof. Upon opening his poncho, instead of roses there was a picture of the young lady in the vision.
Consequently, sumptuous roses encircle the Virgin in Dali’s masterpiece. Dali continued that beauty with stunning red and green gems that form a crown upon the head of the Virgin – here modeled by Gala Dali – against a backdrop of rivulets of a sun flower – all evoking a sense of order, perfection and beauty.
Dali quoted the image of the Virgin holding the Christ child unabashedly from Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” of 1514. Dali venerated the Renaissance masters, always nodding especially to Raphael as one of his major inspirations.
Some may question the choice of Gala in the role of the Virgin (while the child is an exact copy of Raphael’s). I say, Why not? Dali has taken Raphael’s iconic image and made it his own. He showed respect and extreme admiration for his wife by according her the honor of being the model for the Madonna figure here. What’s more, Salvador Dali was in a class by himself, in part because he moved in unexpected creative directions. His unpredictability was part of what made him great.
A great bonus of sorts in “The Virgin of Guadalupe” is his expression of what was known as “Dalinian Continuity” – an intentional linking of his paintings by carrying over certain elements from one picture to another.
For example, take a look at the two kneeling, prayerful Apostle figures. Look familiar? They’re plucked right out of Dali’s 1955 masterpiece, “The Sacrament of the Last Supper.” Now check out the jasmine flower in the vase at the bottom, to which billowing clouds serve as a backdrop. That same detail – the flower and the clouds – are seen in Dali’s monumental 1957 painting, “Santiago El Grande.”
Art professor Dr. Elliott King poses with the spectacular “Virgin of Guadalupe.”
The perfection inherent in “The Virgin of Guadalupe” leaves us appreciating the genius of Salvador Dali, who was every bit a painter of beauty as well as the standard bearer of Surrealism and its more bizarre imagery.