By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
Ever look at something you admire over and over again, then discover – either on your own or through the keen eye of someone else – something you’d just never noticed about the item before?
That happened to me this week, thanks to Tampa, Florida artist Steven Kenny, who, in addition to being a highly successful and very talented painter, is also a docent at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
I confess that, while Mr. Kenny has detected a remarkable similarity between a rather haunting detail of the Dalí painting in question – “Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid” – and a work by the 16th century German artist, Hans Holbein, I didn’t even know the detail in the Dalí canvas even existed! And I have a hunch most people have not been aware of it either.
Here’s the discovery . . .
In the lower right quadrant of the large painting is a group of Arabs pointing rifles at other Arabs – some standing, some kneeling – achieving the effect of a kind of molecular model. But Mr. Kenny’s discernment comes in when we home in on the bottom horizontal part of the lowest cube: it’s a man lying on his back.
That in itself is a revelation to me. I’d never noticed it before. But it’s not just any person.
It seems more than coincidental that the reposed figure, who appears to be deceased, bears an astonishing resemblance to Hans Holbein’s dramatic painting, “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.” Examining Holbein’s extraordinary work in the reproduction of it here, and a close-up of the detail from the Dalí work (which is alternately known as “Homage to Crick and Watson”), makes it very clear to me that Salvador Dalí absolutely had the Holbein masterpiece in mind when he painted this small, virtually hidden element in his 1963 canvas.
While Dalí nods to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in both the Arabian tableau and the genetic model at middle left, he was also drawing a correlation between science and religion. This explains the various religious details in the work, including God floating in the heavens with his arm reaching down and lifting his Son, who can be faintly made out above and to the left of the back view of Gala.
Floating in the upper left clouds is the prophet Isaiah, which echoes the manner in which he was captured centuries earlier by the brush of Raphael – a fascinating comparison and nod to an important artistic precursor that was again first brought to my attention by artist Kenny.
There’s a lesson in all of this. Art is better appreciated, at least for my money, when you not just look at it – but really look at it. When you study it closely. Carefully. Thoroughly. Critically. Don’t assume, as I and many have, that all sides of that Arabian cubic composite, for instance, are alike; one just might come to life. Or death.
I can think of no greater artist whose work invites this kind of scrutiny than Salvador Dalí. Now I can’t wait to visit the Dalí Museum in Florida again and look anew at “Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid.”