Salvador Dalí
The Madonna of Port Lligat

Oil on canvas, 12 x 8 '

The Madonna of Port Lligat was an extremely important painting for Salvador Dalí, as it showed him branching off into many new directions. Not only did Dalí invent a new style for the painting, "quantum realism", but he also took on new subject matter, with his conversion to Catholic imagery.

The Madonna of Port Lligat depicts Gala, Dalí’s wife, as the Virgin Mary floating, while praying underneath a decaying arch. Cut into Gala’s body is a frame, which takes up most of her torso. Inside this frame baby Jesus floats with his arms spread outward, although not in a crucifixion pose, with his torso also having a frame hole. Housed inside of Jesus’ body floats a piece of bread.

Underneath the main center of this piece what looks like a casket floats above the main ground. Floating above the casket is various miscellaneous things, such as a fish, flowers, a basket, and some sort of leather bag. Inside two frames cut into the casket there is a rhinoceros and what appears to be a design of floating water. Above the main centerpiece a seashell basket has just dropped an egg, which is floating down to the head of Gala.

Behind all of this a vast waterscape exists. Walking, or rather floating, above the water there are various angels with outstretched arms. On the opposite side of the angels similar objects are mirrored, but these objects are very round and not very representative of human forms. Even father in the distance mountains float above the surface.

Quantum Realism

For The Madonna of Port Lligat Salvador Dalí created a completely new artistic style for himself, which he christened "quantum realism". This style of painting drew heavily from two previous pieces, Dematerialization near the Nose of Nero, and Leda Atomica, where Dali first began to experiment with what he then called "floating space"; objects hovering above the surface of the painting with no real connection to the ground or to other objects.

However, with The Madonna of Port Lligat Dalí also devoted himself to a threefold synthesis of classical painting, the atomic age, and intense spiritualism, three things which were lacking in his previous explorations of quantum realism, in addition to floating space. About this Dalí said:

"My ideas were ingenious and abundant. I decided to turn my attention to the pictorial solution of quantum theory, and invented quantum realism in order to master gravity...I painted Lead Atomica, a celebration of Gala, the goddess of my metaphysics, and succeeded in creating 'floating space'; and then Dali at the Age of Six, When He Thought He Was a Girl Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Skin of the Sea to Observe a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Water - a picture which the personae and objects seem like foreign bodies in space.

I visually dematerialized matter; then I spiritualized it in order to be able to create energy. The object is a living being, thanks to the energy that it contains and radiates, thanks to the density of the matter it consists of. Every one of my subjects is also a mineral, with its place in the pulse beat of the world and a living piece of uranium.

I maintain with full conviction that heaven is located in the breast of the faithful. My mysticism is not only religious, but also nuclear and hallucinogenic. I discovered the selfsame truth in gold, in painting soft watches, or in my visions of the railway station at Perpiganan. I believe in magic and in my fate."

Multiple Versions

Three versions of The Madonna of Port Lligat were made: one original study piece, and two official finished versions, one twelve feet by eight feet and the other nineteen inches by fourteen inches.

First study

The first study done for The Madonna of Port Lligat has a few differences when compared to the finished pieces. In general the finished pieces have a much darker tone to them than the original first study, with the addition of thunderclouds and lightning in the background, as well as the darkening of the casket and the addition of a murkier looking water.

The other significant difference between the two versions comes from the portrayal of Gala and Jesus. In the first study Gala has many differences from the finished work including a larger frame in her abdomen, a slice taken out of her head, and hands that are more open instead of praying. But those are basically insignificant details that do not change the real composition of the painting. The changes to Jesus, on the other hand, are much more drastic and important.

The first study portrays a baby Jesus with its head bowed, legs askew, and privates revealed. He floats above a blue cushion and holds a tiny cross in his right hand. There is still a small frame in his chest, but the bread in the middle is completely absent. This is important because on the finished pieces the bread is the focal point of the painting.

12' x 8'

The larger version of The Madonna of Port Lligat was the first painting Dalí ever created that was this huge. Although it worked out magnificently for the work it was also an oversized pain when it came to moving it around. When they shipped the painting out of Port Lligat they needed to order a special truck to move it; when they tried to get it into a New York art gallery it was too large for the elevators, so they had to hoist it through a huge window by rope; and when they tried to sell it, it was too large for any home.

Eventually, however, an owner was found. Lady Beaverbrook in Canada bought the painting and put it into her own private collection. The painting has never since been loaned out for appearances in retrospective galleries, because in order to get it out of Beaverbrook’s house they would have to either knock down a door or a window.

19'' x 14''

Dalí created the smaller version of The Madonna of Port Lligat for Pope Pius XII. Dalí was granted an audience on November 23, 1949, where he presented the Pope with The Madonna of Port Lligat. After presenting the painting Dalí announced that he was converting to Catholic ideals and classical Renaissance art. The Pope was very pleased and commended Dalí for his change of heart.

Salvador Dalí: A biography by Meryle Secrest
Dalí by Dawn Ades
Salvador Dalí by Gilles Neret

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