Until recently, all I knew about Salvador Dalí was that he created this painting. I have seen it—smaller than I expected—many times at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I hadn’t realized that Dali, known for weird surrealist paintings such has this one, had reverted to Catholicism in midlife. Born on this day in Catalonia, Spain, he had been raised Catholic but had turned to atheism as a young adult. He painted this picture, The Persistence of Memory, when he was 27 and in the full embrace of atheism. Even then, however, he was contemplating how time is a fluid concept, something anyone who believes that God exists beyond space and time has mulled.
Dali died in 1989. I am heartened to know that he died in full Communion with the Church. To celebrate his birthday, I wanted to share some of his religious artwork. I never studied art history, and so I was delighted to discover these works in my journeys through cyberspace.
The Church has a tradition of cherishing artists. Pope John Paul II said: “Beauty is the vocation bestowed on the artist by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent”. Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation as poet, writer, sculptor, musician, and actor feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it to service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.” To be sure, Dalí was an oddball. This formidable 20th-century artist didn’t have a conventional childhood. He was born nine months after his older brother, also named Salvador, died. When he was five his parents took him to his brother’s grave and told he was the reincarnation of his brother. Imagine how difficult it would be to grow up with that misperception.
What a blessing that our Church and our God has room for everyone. We are all misfits in our own way, aren’t we? As Flannery O’Connor wrote: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” I pray that Salvador Dalí, who gave the world the gifts of his artistic talent, found comfort and solace in the Church. Here are some samples of paintings that reflect his faith.
This 1946 painting is called “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.” It is in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Here Dali depicts the supernatural temptations of Desert Father Saint Anthony the Great as he sojourned through Egypt.
In 1954, Dalí painted “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus).” It is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Finally, given that we will celebrate the Feast of Ascension on Thursday, I thought I would finish this art tour with Dalí’s painting, “The Ascension of Christ.” It is in a private collection.