Two extraordinary creative minds, centuries apart, both united in their daring artistic visions. Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dalí may not immediately seem the most likely of pairings, but Dalí and da Vinci: Minds, Machines and Masterpieces, an exhibit at St. Petersburg, Florida’s Dalí Museum, brings home similarities in temperament and instinct that are deeper than they may initially seem.
Dalí’s affinity for da Vinci was both lifelong and indelibly felt, from his own version of the The Last Supper completed in 1955, to the “Hommage to Leonardo da Vinci” series, a celebration of inventions throughout the centuries in a portfolio from 1975. (His bow to da Vinci’s breakthroughs in the field of aerodynamics is illustrated in the “Airplane” sketch shown at left.)
Dalí is responsible for one of the more famous of the 20th-Century parodies of the Mona Lisa (to be joined later by reproductions by artists such as Andy Warhol all the way to Banksy). His Self-Portrait as Mona Lisa, at top, is actually an image taken by Philippe Halsman, the renowned photographer and frequent Dalí collaborator. The concept, of course, is sheer Dalí, including the bag of coins that “Mona Dalí” holds in his/her lap. It’s the reason for the eternally enigmatic smile, the artist later said.
(It’s interesting to wonder what Dalí was up to with this spoof, as he curiously later published an article in Art News, “Why They Attack the Mona Lisa,” in which he defended the painting from such caricatures as Marcel Duchamp’s objet trouvé of the venerated masterpiece, where she’s depicted with a moustache and goatee.)
Ambitious, but with a sense of the whimsical, the Dalí and da Vinci exhibit groups the artists’ mutual themes of interest into several categories, such as Youthful Scientific Dispositions, Invention, and the Power of Mathematics. Dalí’s quasi-obsession with the Italian genius bridged the psychological as well; he was fascinated by Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, a work that one can assume had an outsized influence on the Surrealist movement and its wanderings into the subconscious. For Dalí, another of Freud’s essays, “Leonardo da Vinci: A Memory of His Childhood,” a psychoanalysis of Leonardo as a youngster, was revelatory — details from da Vinci’s youth found their way into the paintings of his adoring acolyte, hundreds of years later.
From early designs for bicycles and helicopters to perpetual-motion machines, da Vinci as inventor would have kept a modern trademark office working overtime. Dalí was no slouch in this department either. Among his out-there creations, not realized in his lifetime: a giant sphere, which would now be described as a sort of hamster ball, that humans could play around in. (As Peter Tush, the Dalí Museum’s curator of education recently quipped, “Now you can find them on Amazon.”)
In Dali’s own words, that were as true for himself as for his Renaissance alter ego: “The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”
[Dalí and da Vinci: Minds, Machines and Masterpieces runs through July 26.]