Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904–1989)
Oil on canvas
88 7/8 x 75 1/4 in. (225.7 x 191.1 cm)
Gift of Drue Heinz, in memory of Henry J. Heinz II, 1987 (1987.465)
© 2011 Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Salvador Dalí became an official member of the Surrealist group in 1929, and even after he was expelled by its leader, André Breton, in 1941, his work continued to reflect the influence of Surrealist thought and methodology. Dalí's paintings feature intellectual puzzles and visual ambiguities, and his style is marked by superrealistic illusionism that is used to describe completely unrealistic, fanciful subjects. Madonna is one of several works Dalí made after 1941 that uses classical imagery as the basis for Surrealist invention. Here, he paints two different simultaneous subjects with a profusion of gray and pink dots: a Madonna and Child based on Raphael's Sistine Madonna (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, after 1513), and a large ear, whose ridged interior surface is defined by the presence of these two figures. Each motif is designed to come into focus at a different distance. At close range, the painting looks completely abstract; from about six feet away, it reveals the Madonna and Child; and from fifty feet, it is what the artist called "the ear of an angel." To the left of the main images is a trompe-l'oeil detail of a red cherry suspended on a string from a torn and folded piece of paper; its shadow is cast onto another piece of paper bearing the signature of the artist.