Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

The Life of Mary Magdalene

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
The Life of Mary Magdalene
signed and dated 'Dalí 1960' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 5/8 x 24 5/8 in. (62.5 x 62.5 cm.)
Painted in 1960
Carroll Carstairs Gallery, New York.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 23 October 1974, lot 261.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 9 December 1998, lot 658.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
R. Descharnes, Salvador Dalí, New York, 1976, p. 160 (illustrated p. 161).
R. Descharnes, Salvador Dalí: The Work, The Man, New York, 1984 (illustrated p. 361).
R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí: The Paintings, 1946-1989, vol. II, Cologne, 1994, no. 1173, p. 769 (illustrated p. 525).
New York, Carroll Carstairs Gallery, Salvador Dalí, December 1960 - January 1961, no. 8.
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Painted in 1960, The Life of Mary Magdalene is one of a series of important mystical paintings on the subject of Christ and the Passion which Dalí made in the late 1950s and early '60s. These works expanded upon Dalí's much-vaunted philosophy of Nuclear Mysticism that the artist had first expounded in his 1952 manifesto and combined selected tenets of atomic science, classical painting, Roman Catholicism and Spanish and Catalan mysticism into a unique and distinctly Dalinean vision of the world.

The Life of Mary Magdalene was painted in Port Lligat around the same time that Dalí was working on one of the culminating visions of this philosophy, his vast religious painting commemorating the then new Pope John XXIII's meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in a symbolic gesture of Christian unity, The Ecumenical Council of 1960, now in the Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida. Displaying the voluptuous and sensual body of Mary Magdelene seemingly materializing from a swirl of heavenly clouds, The Life of Mary Magdalene is one of several religious paintings Dalí made at this time that combine a celestial image of flesh with the sharp penetrative form of nails (and screws) drawn from the Passion of Christ.

Dalí's use of nails features in many of his works at this time, most notably in his painting Hyperxiological Sky - a work intermingling the contrasting elements of nails and the sky that refers directly to a description given by the Catalan philosopher Francesc Pujols, who had invented a science-based religion known as 'hyperxiology'. Dalí was greatly influenced by Pujols, even later in life, building and dedicating a statue to the philosopher outside his own theatre/museum in Figueres. Here, in this work, the startling visual combination of a sky penetrated by nails operates on many levels. Despite his renewed interest in Catholicism and his invoking of Christian articles of faith and ritual, Dalí himself remained, at heart, more of a Spanish mystic than a devout Catholic, and his ultimate conviction remained that heaven was situated in the centre of one's own chest. In this work, this conviction appears to be expressed through the celestial body of Mary Magdelene which, seeming to open a pathway to heaven within itself, is simultaneously penetrated by the instruments of Christ's Passion.

Following Pujol's description of this celestial substance as being of 'colloidal' origin, Dalí, typically, gives both an erotic and mystical interpretation of the space/time continuum of the universe, revealing it here to be in fact a finite, material and even corporeal entity, expressing the divine mystery at the heart of creation as one that ultimately lies within ourselves.