Salvador Dalí had complicated and evolving views on religion. He was born to a Catholic mother and an atheist father. His father made sure his son attended public school instead of a Catholic one. In his early life, Dalí shared his father’s views on Catholicism. His early films made with Luis Bunel, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) and L’Age d’Or (Age of Gold), portray priests as corrupt and ignorant. During the same time he produced those films, he also created a sacrilegious drawing of Christ titled Sometimes I spit with pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother.
Salvador Dalí as a priest in Un Chien Andalou
Sometimes I spit with pleasure on the Portrait of My Mother, 1929
In the 1940s, Dalí changed his opinions about Catholicism. He attended a private audience with Pope Pius VII in 1949 where he presented the first version of his work Madonna of Port Lligat. A year later he announced his return to the Catholic Church.
Two other developments occurred at the same time Dalí announced he was Catholic again. He began to incorporate Classical iconography into his pieces. He was inspired by Classical Greek and Roman art as well as art from the Renaissance. Additionally, he discovered Nuclear Mysticism, “a philosophical interpretation of Quantum mechanics, used as a means to explain the phenomena of consciousness.” For Dalí, nuclear mysticism was a way to use modern science to reinterpret and rationalize the religious aspects of his paintings.
The Madonna of Port Lligat, 1950.
The Madonna of Port Lligat is the first masterwork in which Dalí combined religion, classicism and science. In the painting, the Virgin Mary is seated on a platform with a nuclear structure. Yet, this element of modernity stands in contrast to Mary’s pose and the egg above her head, two aspects that resemble Renaissance paintings. This combination, along with Dalí’s surreal style, allowed him to create a unique interpretation of a religious subject.
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), 1954
In other masterworks with religious subjects, the artist incorporated elements of math and science. In Crucifixion, Dalí depicted Christ suspended before a hypercube, a geometric figure. The painting Santiago El Grande contains an atomic explosion from the four petals of a jasmine flower.
Santiago El Grande, 1975
Finally, within Dalí’s Biblia Sacra suite, there are references to science. In one print, the figures appear to be made up of atomic parts instead of definite lines or shapes. In another, a twisting snake mimics the DNA spiral.
And Took the Body of Jesus Away
Dalí was never a devout Catholic. In fact, he declared himself to be a Catholic without faith. However, he found a unique way to reconcile Catholicism with modern ideas of science and math through nuclear mysticism.