- Salvador Dalí
- Statue de Zeus olympien
- Signed Dalí (lower right)
- Oil on canvas
- 15 by 16 in.
- 38 by 40.6 cm
Family of the artist
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1980
In 1954, Dalí created a series of oil paintings as designs for a film, "The Seven Wonders of the World." The series included The Colossus of Rhodes, The Walls of Babylon, The Lighthouse at Alexandria, The Pyramids and the Sphynx of Gizeh, and the present work, depicting the legendary statue of Zeus at Olympia. This incredible monument did in fact exist, and an ancient eyewitness account survives, offering a highly detailed description that Dalí undoubtedly referred to. Built circa 432 B.C. by the Greek sculptor Phidias, the statue was a soaring forty feet of ivory and gold-plated bronze, with a throne made of cedar and inlaid with ivory, ebony, gold and precious stones.
Ancient accounts describe the staggering impact felt when beholding the statue, and in the present work Dalí adeptly recreates that sense of awesome power while also underscoring the inherently surreal quality of the scene. The chamber is bathed in an ethereal and ominous red light which seems to emanate from Zeus' face, casting a blood-red shadow of the winged goddess Nike across the colonnade at left. Despite the genuine enormity of the statue, Dalí exaggerates the scale so as to completely dwarf the two human figures. He also employs a familiar motif of a chessboard pattern on the temple floor, which reiterates the sense that here humans are like pawns, scurrying about at the behest of their almighty king.
The present work highlights Dalí's immense fascination with classical art and the ancient world, a prolific theme within his vast oeuvre. In addition to the Seven Wonders, Dalí cited Greek and Roman statuary in his work including Myron's Discobolos and, most famously, the Venus de Milo (see fig. 2). Being therefore well versed in classical iconography and mythology, Dalí includes a prominent crack in the present depiction of Zeus—a reference to the story of the birth of Athena. According to myth, Zeus swallowed Athena's pregnant mother whole and was soon beset with an excruciating headache. Hephaestus, the smith god, was summoned and using his hammer cracked open Zeus and out sprang the fully grown and armored Athena.
Fig. 1 Photograph of the artist
Fig. 2 Salvador Dalí, Vénus de Milo aux tiroirs, bronze with pompoms, sold: Sotheby's, London, December 4, 2000, lot 18