Dali, Cage and Rhinos

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In 1956, Salvador Dalí created a sculpture entitled Rinoceronte vestido con puntillas (Rhinoceros dressed in lace). He was inspired by a woodcut created by Albrecht Dürer in 1515, popularly known as Dürer’s Rhinoceros. Starting in the 50s, Dali painted several of his subjects as composed of rhinoceros horns. According to Dalí, the rhinoceros horn signifies divine geometry because it grows in a logarithmic spiral. He also linked the rhinoceros to themes of chastity and to the Virgin Mary: “The rhino horn is indeed the legendary unicorn horn, symbol of chastity. The young lady may choose to lie on it or to morally play with it; as it was usual in courtesan love epochs”.

As an homage to Vermeer, he painted a study of The Lacemaker composed entirely of exploding rhinoceros horns. This piece, Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer’s Lacemaker was painted at the Paris Zoo. In 1958, his tribute to the 300th anniversary of the death of Velasquez, the Infanta Margarita, also included rhinoceros horns, which converge to define the head of the Infanta. In the above 1952 photo, Dali–equipped with his only horn–pays a homage of a rhinoceros.

The photo was taken by Phillippe Halsman, who met Dalí in 1941 and started collaborating with him in the late 1940s. Their 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the idea of suspension. Halsman and Dali eventually released a compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali’s Mustache, which features 36 different views of the artist’s distinctive mustache. The photo was homaged by Annie Leibovitz in 1996 photoshoot with Nicolas Cage.

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