The image of an elephant carrying an obelisk is portrayed in one of Dalí’s best-known paintings The Temptation of St Anthony (1946). Four elephants led by a horse in a desert landscape, carry symbolic objects which represent various temptations. The obelisk, symbol of knowledge and power, is Dalí’s homage to Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture in Rome.
Dalí’s elephants have exaggeratedly long legs which raise them up towards the sky. These thin, multi-jointed legs juxtapose with the heavy body of the elephant. The obelisk alludes to a tiring burden, yet the artist distorts reality making it weightless, an illusion of it almost floating above the saddle. The combination of these contradictory elements create a sense of disarray and metaphysical imbalance that can only exist in a dream-like world.
This surreal creature, moving through space towards the heavens, symbolizes a flight of fantasy to a mesmerizing universe. The image of the elongated legs in addition to the tall pointed obelisk, alludes to man’s pursuit of ‘reaching higher’.
The legs of the elephant originally had claw-like feet during the sculpture’s creation. Doubtful of this element, Beniamino Levi President of the Dalí Universe, approached Dalí to modify it. After initial resistance and with Gala’s support, the feet changed to horses hooves.
Like the soft watch, the Elephant became an important symbol, an unforgettable image used repeatedly in his oeuvre.