Salvador Dali and Religion

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The Birth of a God by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dalí’s experience of religion was divided from early on. His mother’s family were devout Catholics, but his father was a staunch atheist who sent him initially to the local state school to spare his son a Catholic education. The young Dalí shared his father’s aversion.

In 1929–30 his films Un Chien andalou and L’Age d’or, made with Luis Bunuel, included scandalous portrayals of the priesthood as corrupt, ignorant and hypocritical. In 1929 Dalí also drew a blasphemous image of Christ and the sacred heart, which he entitled Sometimes I spit with pleasure on the portrait of my mother (The Sacred Heart) to the anger and distress of his family.

Although he once blamed Catholicism for his profound sense of guilt about sex, Dalí began drifting back to the church from the 1940s onwards exploring his religious roots and studying medieval, particularly Spanish mystics for whom art, science and religion were one.

During a private audience with Pope Pius X11 in 1949, Dalí showed him his latest painting The Madonna of Port Lligat – the serene canvas depicting his wife Gala as the Virgin Mary floating dreamily above the bay of Port Lligat was blessed by the pontiff.

On 19 October 1950, he gave a lecture at the Ateneu in Barcelona, titled ‘Why I was Sacrilegious. Why I am a Mystic’ which sought to explain his transformation from a zealous anti-cleric to a devout Catholic albeit one who lacked complete ‘faith’. Reincarnating himself,he attempted to persuade his audience that he was himself a true religious mystic who reinterpreted and rationalised the Christian religion through the lens of contemporary scientific discoveries.

The paintings from this period that Dalí called Nuclear mysticism are characterised by a painterly style characteristic of traditions of classicism particularly those of the great Italian masters of ten Renaissance period such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. During a television interview with American Mike Wallace in 1958 Dalí explained that everything in life was erotic and therefore ugly, whilst death in comparison was free of eroticism and a sublime, beautiful experience. Nevertheless he feared his own death and hoped to avoid it altogether. Failing this he died with last rites in 1989.

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