03 October, 2006

Dali on Raphael

Who would have imagined it? M. Dali, who is after all only the Salvator of modern art, has succeeded in transforming a humble dauber of the Cinquecento, by name R. Sanzio (pictured, right, in a rather unflattering self-portrait), into one of the most majestic stars of the artistic firmament! M. Dali is well known to be the great critic of our times, for only he has the courage to say what others cannot, the audacity to place his pedicular appendage on the true path to wisdom, and the eyes to examine the fine and corpuscular inquisitorial activity of form upon matter. The mustachio'd conquistador exclaims in his priceless Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship (1948):
Ingres yearned to paint like Raphael and only painted like Ingres; Raphael yearned to paint like the Ancients and exceeded them.
And so we might equally say that Dali yearned to paint like Raphael and exceeded him. He has shown us the true futurism and eternal youth of that Florentine, 'angelic Raphael' (Cocus du Vieil Art Moderne, 1957), who is 'the most anti-academic, the most tenderly living and the most futuristic of all the aesthetic archetypes of all times', or as he remarks in his Fifty Secrets: 'there is a futurist painter, if by this one means that he will continue more and more to exert an active influence on the future!' It is apparent that M. Dali discovered his love for Raphael just before the Spanish Civil War; as he tells us in his 1942 Secret Life:
We were consumed with admiration over reproductions of Raphael. There one could find everything—everything that we surrealists have invented constituted in Raphael only a tiny fragment of his latent but conscious content of unsuspected, hidden and manifest things. But all this was so complete, so synthetic, so one, that for this very reason he eludes our contemporaries.
And he does not stop there, but is able by virtue of a precise Pythagorean-Euclidean calculus to quantify the painter's genius. In the Fifty Secrets he produces a Comparative Table of the Values After Dalinian Analysis Elaborated During Ten Years; here he rates artists from history according to a series of criteria: craftsmanship, inspiration, colour, design, genius, composition, originality, mystery, and authenticity. Each category has a maximum value of 20. Mondrian (whose given name, as Dali observes in the Cocus, is only one letter short of a fart, pet) scores especially poorly:

0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0.5, 0, 3.5

We are perhaps relieved that our hero chose not to include Turner, as elsewhere he has been kind enough to elucidate for us that 'the worst painter who ever lived was named Joseph Turner'. Dali himself scores respectably:

12, 17, 10, 17, 19, 18, 17, 19, 19

We note that Dali considers himself not sublime in the matter of colour, scoring only 10 points out of 20. And angelic Raphael himself?

19, 19, 18, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20

Raphael is in fact second to Vermeer, whom Dali once glorified in the form of a side-table, and to whom Dali awards maximum points in all categories except originality, where he picks up a mere 19. These two gods of the alchemical brush are considered more highly than all others, and along with Velazquez constitute an insurpassable triumvirate of classical painting, through whom one can discern the impalpable perfection of the suprasensible spheres.

Are there any Raphael canvases which Dali loves overmuch? The answer to this question must be in the affirmative. For the Spaniard more than once brings to his pen the incomparable Saint George of 1505, 'which has remained fresh as a rose!' (Cocus)—or as he puts it in the Fifty Secrets:
And while all around us modern painting ages spiritually and materially, becoming so quickly outmoded, turning yellow, darkening, breaking out in cracks and all the stigmata of decrepitude, a painting of Raphael, for example the Saint George slaying the dragon, grows younger day by day, not only spiritually, to the point of appearing today as philosophically the most up-to-date, but also materially.
Here we see the broken shafts of a lance arranged perspectivally upon the ground, recalling the San Romano, that great masterpiece of Uccello, 'who painted armor that looked like little ortolans and did this with a grace and mystery worthy of the true bird that he was and for which he was named' (Secret Life). Nevertheless George's horse is preposterously fat on its little legs, and the distressed damsel is poorly integrated into the composition.

We take it as dazzlingly obvious that the lesson to be learnt from this whole escapade is not the great value of Raphael, but rather the great value of holding up as the paragon of superlunary ability an antecedent or forebear, so as to constitute therein one's own Star of Bethlehem, and in fact to encourage self-identification thereto, or in plain words to be enriched hyperplenarily with the cornucopian wealth of genius afforded by phantasmagorical abasement at the knees of a fellow magus, a soft submersion of self.


Sir G said...

I think Sanzio's greatness is best seen in works not seen here: his juvenile frescos in Urbino and in his Isaiah in Sant' Agostino. But a cute post all the same -- and brings us quirky little known ponderabilia. It is Vunex specialty, no?

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks. The Isaiah is rather Michelangelesque, isn't it? I'm rather partial to the Liberation of St. Peter, myself...

Anonymous said...

It looks Michelangelesque in small reproductions. Head on it is a different story altogether.

Anonymous said...

Interessting. best article I´ve read for a long time. Thank you. Sol (DK)

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks, Sol, I'm glad you liked it.