The Dalí Theatre-Museum, opened in 1974, is the largest surrealistic object in the World. It was built on the ruins of the ancient theater of Figueres and hosts the most important collection of Dalí’s pictures and sculptures.
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Púbol (11 May 1904 – 23 January 1989) was born in Figueres. Although his principal mean of expression was the painting, he also made inroads in different fields such as cinema, photography, sculpture, fashion, jewellery and theatre, in collaboration with a wide range of artists in different media. His wife and muse, Gala Dalí was one of the essential characters in his biography. His public appearances never failed to impress and his ambiguous relationship with Francisco Franco’s regime made of this multifaceted character an icon of the 20th century and more than an artist. During his life he lived in Madrid, Paris and Catalonia and for this reason he was influenced by other important artists. He died in Barcelona and was buried in his own museum against his desire.
Why did I say that he is more than an artist? If you visit the Dalí’s Theatre-Museum in Figueres, you will see his art based on mathematics and physical laws. Dalí’s relationship with science began in his teens when he started reading scientific articles and this passion for science was preserved all his life. In the museum you can find a great reflection of that passion. Furthermore, the painter’s library contains hundreds of books with notes about various scientific topics: physics, quantum mechanics, life’s origin, evolution and mathematics. In addition to that, he was subscribed to several scientific journals to be informed about the new scientific advances.
To show this relation between Mathematics and his masterpieces, I will explain three artworks which are exhibited in the museum from a mathematical point of view. The first one is Leda Atomica (1949). He created it from studying Luca Pacioli’s De Divina Proportione (Milan, 1509) Dalí made different computations for three months with the help of Matila Ghyka (1881-1965). Ghyka wrote some mathematical treatises related with the golden number like Le nombre d’or: Rites et rythmes pythagoriciens dans le development de la civilisation occidentale (1931), The Geometry of Art and Life (1946) or A Practical Handbook of Geometry and Design (1952).
The painting synthesizes centuries of tradition of Pythagorean symbolic Mathematics. It is a watermark based on the golden ratio, but making the viewer not appreciate it at first glance. In 1947’s sketch, it can be noticed the geometric accuracy of the analysis done by Dalí based on the Pythagorean mystic staff, which is a five-pointed star drawn with five straight strokes:
You can see that Gala, in the centre of the painting, is enclosed in a regular pentagon and her proportions are according the golden ratio. The picture depicts Leda, the mythological queen of Sparta, with a swan suspended behind her left. There also are a book, a set square, two stepping tools and a floating egg. Dalí himself described the picture in the following way:
Dalí shows us the hierarchized libidinous emotion, suspended and as though hanging in midair, in accordance with the modern ‘nothing touches’ theory of intra-atomic physics. Leda does not touch the swan; Leda does not touch the pedestal; the pedestal does not touch the base; the base does not touch the sea; the sea does not touch the shore…
Another mathematical example is Dalí from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalised by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors from 1973. This is a stereoscopic work which is an example of the experiments conducted by him during the seventies. Dalí wished to reach the third dimension through stereoscopy and to achieve the effect of depth.
The last example is Nude Gala Looking at the Sea Which at 18 Meters Appears the President Lincoln (1975). In this case, Dalí used the double image techinque for creating akind of illusion which is very common in his work.
So, Dalí was more mathematician than one can imagine.
This post has been written by Sara Puig Cabruja in the subject Història de les Matemàtiques (History of Mathematics, 2014-15).
More information about Dalí’s scientific motivation: Salvador Dalí and Science and Salvador Dalí and Science. Beyond a mere curiosity.