In Temple de Diane à Epheseus he provides a fanciful yet learned recreation of the famed Greek temple, one of Antipater of Sidon’s original Seven Wonders of the World. The temple, dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, known to the Romans as Diana, stood in Ephesus on the coast of what today is Turkey. Daughter of Zeus and Leto, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, chastity and the moon, which shines in crescent form over the temple. We may assume that the female figure to the right bearing a large amphora is one of her devotees, just as we may deduce that the lyre borne by the male figure adjacent to her denotes him as a follower of Apollo, Artemis’ twin brother and god of the sun and music.
Ephesus claimed to have been founded by Artemis’ most militant followers, the Amazons, one of whom enters the picture on horseback from the right. To the left stands a male figure with the Golden Fleece over his shoulder. Captured by Jason and his Argonauts, the Golden Fleece resided in Colchis on the distant edge of the Greek world, and to reach it the Argonauts would have travelled through Turkey and very likely Ephesus.
The first Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed by flood but was rebuilt starting around 550 BC by the command of King Croesus, whose vast riches has made his name a byword for wealth to this day. This rebuilt temple was reputed to be the first of Greek design constructed of marble, a detail not lost on Dalí who imparts gleaming white highlights to the columns and pediment. The artist also includes the unusual detail of highly sculpted column bases which were among the most distinctive elements of the Ephesus temple.
Shortly after the temple’s completion, it fell victim to history’s most infamous act of arson. In 356 BC Herostratus, motivated by a mad lust for fame, set fire to the wooden framing and burned the temple to the ground, giving us the term "herostratic fame." The wisps of smoke emanating from the temple are the result of burnt offerings that comprised a central element in Greek religious practice, but surely they also allude to Herostratus’ crime.
The temple was again rebuilt and stood for three centuries, but again it was destroyed in 268 AD by raiding Goths. For an artist who frequently probed the nebulous realm of our subconscious, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is a refreshingly unambiguous subject. But Dalí could not resist bringing both his erudition and his fertile imagination to bear, creating a striking fantasy of the antique world.
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