The Lady and the Unicorn


by Peter Lucas of the Lucas Gallery

The unicorn is a legendary animal from folklore, predominantly European, that is much like a white horse except for its large, pointed, spiraling horn that projects from its forehead.  It sometimes has a goat’s beard and cloven hooves. The Greeks were the first to mention such a creature.  In the Middle Ages and Renaissance it became an important imaginary animal.  It was said to be very wild, to have lived in woodlands.  Considered a symbol of purity and grace, it could be captured only by virgin.  Its horn was believed to have had the power to render poisoned water drinkable and to heal sickness.

Dalí himself was fascinated with horns especially that of the rhinoceros, which he believed held scientific and mystical secrets.  During the artist’s Atomic period, roughly (1945 to 1960), Dalí believed that his paintings could be deconstructed into rhinoceros horns.  D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form was one of the texts that caused him to focus on the rhinoceros horn’s morphology with regard to the Golden section and the related logarithmic spiral.  He identified logarithmic spirals in rhinoceros horns, cauliflower heads, sunflowers and Vermeer’s painting The Lacemaker of 1669-1670. Whereas the unicorn was indeed associated with sexual innocence and purity, Dalí associated the rhinoceros horn with chastity, too.  This was ironic to say the leastconsidering the phallic shape and fabled aphrodisiac qualities of the larger, real animal.

The unicorn even became a symbol of the Virgin Mary. From the 1950’s on Dalí created paintings which included in them unicorn or rhinoceros.  Among these are ASUMPTA CORPUSCULARIA LAPISLAZULINA (1952),  and YOUNG VIRGIN AUTO-SODOMISED BY THE HORNS OF HER OWN CHASTITY (1954).  Although the latter piece has the words Virgin and Chastity in its title the work hardly seems to be chaste.  However this work brings out the telling point that the thoughts and feeling of a virgin may well be anything but virginal. This work might put some of  us in mind of the sentiments of one of Dalí’s intellectual heroes and mentors,  Sigmund  Freud.  In his brilliant critique of modern Western civilization and the Western way of life titled CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS (1930).   Freud pointed out that we repress our basic drives to such an extent that we deny ourselves much chance of happiness in life.



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