The Madonna of Port Lligat, By Salvador Dali

Title: The Madonna of Port Lligat
Artist: Salvador Dali
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: The Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art
Time: 1949
Dimensions: 19 in x 15 in

“I try to create fantastic things, magical things and things like a dream. The world needs more fantasy. Our civilization is too mechanical”.  This quote by Salvador Dali explains what he attempts to do through his paintings.  The Madonna of Port Lligat does this by producing a modern surrealist interpretation of past works from the Renaissance.  Each seemingly random element in the painting has a purpose and however vague it is meant to communicate something to the viewer.

Dali gathered ideas from renaissance paintings and transformed them into a modern surrealist interpretation.  Surrealism explored the subconscious, the dream world, and irrational elements of the mind in the belief that what was learned from such exploration would reveal more about humans than any other form of social analysis. Salvador Dali, a surrealist, found interest in the ephemeral state of the mind that occurred between sleep and consciousness.  In this state it was believed that the mind functioned free from the constraints that logic and social behavior places on the mind. Dali portrays a dreamlike scene using classical old age ideas of the Renaissance.  In the Madonna of Port lligat Dali takes ideas from Piero della Francesca’s Madonna and Child with Angels and Six Saints and reintroduced them in a surrealist manner.  In both paintings the Madonna clasps her hands above Jesus in same stance.  Both Madonnas are placed on a platform with her clothing rippling down in the same manner.   The two paintings also include the iconography of a seashell and egg.  Dali’s representation of the shell however is turned inverted in the same manner as the artist Carlo Crivelli.  The shell is a reference to Venus and how Mary replaces her in the rise of Christianity.  The egg delicately hangs from the shell by a thin thread, this is meant to symbolize new life.  Dali takes these century old ideas and transforms it into a surrealist, modern approach.    

 Not only does Dali pull in the ideas of other artists, but he also pulls in current events to influence his paintings.  The dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima had a strong influence on many of Dali’s paintings.  The transforming technology was leading to destructive causes, in which the Surrealist society had expressed great disdain.  Dali took no firm moral stance on the matter but acknowledged the turn in society and represented it in his work in an unbiased manner.  After the bombings he showed the discontinuity of matter in many of his paintings to represent this turn in society.  To show this concept in the Madonna of Port Lligat, Madonna is portrayed dematerializing.  Her arms are detached and head is beginning to split down the center. 

As we have insight into why Dali uses certain stances, symbols, and portrayals, there are still other symbols in which he leaves vague and up to the interpretation of the viewer.  The square holes cut out of the midriff of Mary and Jesus is an old concept Dali used in his painting “The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition”, but the symbolic meaning of this technique is not known.  Other symbols in this painting, such as the lemons and sea shells to the side, are left mysterious in their meaning.

Works Cited:

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