“I am enchanted and I see, but I cannot reach what I see and what enchants me’ – so deep in error is this lover”…”You would think he could be touched: it is such a small thing that prevents our love”…”You offer me some unknown hope with your friendly look, and when I stretch my arms out to you, you stretch out yours …”What I want I have. My riches make me poor. O I wish I could leave my own body!”
Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book III, Narcissus
Τερψιχόρη in Greek, is one of the nine muses of Greek mythology, and its name means “to give pleasure, to delight” (from the Greek τέρπω) and “dance” (from the Greek χoρός). Her figure represents the goddess of dance and chorus. In Greek mythology Terpsichore was often depicted in a dress similar to that of the “ἀοιδός” (i.e. a professional singer, considered to be a sacred figure in Ancient Greece) and wore a laurel wreath on her head.
... portrayed as a “double image”...
In the sculpture “Homage to Terpsichore” Salvador Dalí represented the goddess of dance in the third dimension as a “double image”, a figure that splits in two and shows its dual personality. Dalì offers us a new key to access the world of Terpsichore through the idea of figurative splitting, which hints at the splitting of the mind. In this sense, this sculpture celebrates the Dalinian fascination with duplicity.
... intimately connected with narcissism ...
The “double image” concept is undoubtedly central to the work “Homage to Terpsichore”, which introduces the idea of duplicating the figure as if it were placed in front of a mirror. The reflected figure introduces the viewer to the power of imagination generated by the mirror, which allows a new image to emerge, a duplication of the self.
Dalí sets the classical and sinuous shapes of the muse next to her double, whose shapes are geometrical and stiff. The mirror shows the “shadow” of Terpsichore, her metamorphosis into a geometrical body with sprouting branches. The idea of splitting a figure recalling the typical shapes of classical and Renaissance art, and setting it next to a second one that appears to be petrified and with a rock body (from which vital elements spring out), draws its origin from the famous painting “Metamorphosis of Narcissus”, that Dalí created in 1936.
In his pictorial work, Dalí illustrates the transformation of the mythological character Narcissus and his dual manifestation, showing his body transformed into a hand. If, before the metamorphosis, the protagonist appears in his anatomical and luminous form, he reappears petrified and devoid of light after being reflected in the waters.
In the same way, in the sculptural work “Homage to Terpsichore”, Dalí illustrates in the third dimension the transformation of Terpsichore, the muse of Greek mythology, and her double manifestation, which shows her body transformed into an almost rocky figure. As in the aforementioned pictorial work, if, before the metamorphosis, the protagonist appears in her sinuous and luminous form, after the transformation she shows a hardened and shadowy shaped double.
Both works depict elements that lead to the concept of rebirth. In the pictorial work “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” the hand’s fingers grasp an egg with a sprouting narcissus flower. In the sculptural work “Homage to Terpsichore” the figure’s head shows new branches, and others appear next to her feet.
…and the “paranoiac – critical” method…
In the “Homage to Terpsichore” sculpture, the muse of dance becomes the subject for illustrating the theme of narcissism through the “paranoiac – critical” method. For Dalí it is not possible to separate the reality of an object from the ability to become something completely different and contradictory. Dalí said, “I can't do away with my need to study the magical possibilities of an object.”
Dalí’s entire existence is dominated by this idea applied with the “paranoiac – critical” method, the secret of which is revealed in the “Diary of a Genius”. Dalí defined the method he invented as “... the most rigorous systemization of the most delirious phenomena and materials, thus rendering my most obsessively dangerous ideas tangibly creative”.
For Dalí the true power of this method is generated by the presence of Gala. As Dalí once put it, it “works only on condition that it possesses a soft motor of divine origin, a living nucleus, a Gala - and there is only one Gala”.
… homage to the beauty of the female body…
The image of the female body appears as the protagonist of Dalí’s work ever since his childhood, marked by interest in readings on art and the contemplation and reproduction of artistic masterpieces. The female figure had a profound influence on the artistic production of the Catalan artist and on his entire existence.
… Spanish mystical verticality…
It is interesting to note the similarity between the female figure represented standing in the pictorial work Tea “sur l'herbe” (1921) and the position of the figures in the sculpture “Homage to Terpsichore”. In both works the bodies lift their feet from the ground and a limb upwards. They appear almost as vertical axes that indicate the direction to the sky to the viewer.
Dalí was aware of being the son of the “most mystical country in the world”. Verticality, for the Catalan artist, is the fundamental direction to “rise to the sky”, as made quite evident by this sculpture that celebrates “Spanish vertical mysticism”.
…and to Cubism, the symbol of a new life…
With reference to classical and cubist expressiveness, which Dalí used to establish new boundaries in art, the Catalan genius wrote: “While I was intent on creating rigidly classical drawings, I also created a series of mythological paintings, trying to derive positive fruits from my cubist experiences. [...]. Although I never moved from my studio in Figueras, all this movement provoked a lively agitation and the relevant controversies reached the attentive ears of Picasso, who had seen my “Girl at a Window” (1925) in Barcelona, which he praised”.
In this bronze work Dalí applied a double stylistic register and, as in the pictorial works created around the years 1925 and 1926, the composition shows an incredible bond between the order of classical realism and the synthesis of Cubist shapes. Classicism and cubism are made to dialogue with each other, creating a new language and multiple meanings.
In this sense, the work “Homage to Terpsichore” reflects the surprising imagination of Dalí’s genius, as it combines a profound respect for classical tradition alongside the expressiveness of Cubism, closely connected with Pablo Picasso’s expressive language.
Dalí’s cubist phase is evident both in the pictorial works created during the 1920s, including “Cubist Self-Portrait” (1923), and in his sculptural production, especially in the bronze sculpture “Homage to Terpsichore”. Through his cubist experience Dalí began to be considered a prominent personality among young Catalan artists. The first two Cubist paintings, which Dalí created in the student house of Madrid in 1922, were the ones that really impressed the revolutionary avant-garde group.
Thus, the Cubist period was very important for Dalí as it marked his new birth. Perhaps Dalí wanted to dedicate the sculpture “Homage to Terpsichore” also to the personal rebirth he experienced during the Cubist period, deciding to represent it symbolically with the presence of new branches sprouting from the geometric shapes.
Summary of the extraordinary Dalinian vision!
The “Homage to Terpsichore” sculpture celebrates the muse of dance and, at the same time, the Dalinian love for cubist aesthetics, which refers to his academic studies and the period in which Dalí worked to support the expressive novelties of Cubism against the opinion of teachers, often skeptical and tied by academic traditions.
Over the past 30 years, the monumental sculptures of the Dalí Universe Collection have been exhibited in the most important cities of the world, including Rome, London, Beijing, Singapore, Sydney and Hong Kong. The monumental version of the sculpture “Homage to Terpsichore”, almost four meters high, is currently exhibited in Minsk, Belarus, where it can be admired in front of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus until the end of June 2019.
The multiple elements and symbols present in the “Homage to Terpsichore” sculpture suggest uncountable interpretative possibilities and highlight Dalí’s extraordinary ability in the use of classicism and cubism as iconographic resources from which to draw and elaborate his personal and stimulating vision.
Diario di un genio (Diary of a Genius), Salvador Dalí, 1963.
La mia vita segreta (The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí), Salvador Dalí, 1942.
Salvador Dalí: The Museum of Modern Art, JT Soby, 1946.
Catalogue Raisonné of Salvador Dalí Paintings (https://www.salvador-dali.org).
Dalì, un artista un genio (Dalì, an artist, a genius), a cura di (edited by) Montse Aguer, Lea Mattarella, 2012.
Dalí The Centenary Retrospective, Dawn Ades, 1975.