La Vierge et le Rhinoceros.

Executed circa 1973

signed ‘Dali’ (lower right)

25⅜” x 18¾”, 64.5 x 47.7cm

pencil, gouache, felt-tipped pen and coloured inks on paper


Sale; Sotheby’s London, 31 March 1982.

Private Collection; sale, Bonham’s, 30 October 2012, lot 61.

Gladwell & Patterson; acquired at the above sale.

This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity from Nicolas and Olivier Descharnes and is registered in the Archives Descharnes under no d2605.

La vierge et le rhinocéros was created in preparation for a stained glass project which was installed at the Teatro-Museo Dalí, Figueras, and was later used in the lithographic series Les vitraux (circa 1974) and Le jungle humanine (circa 1976).

Rendered with a graphic simplicity and bold colours, fittingly for its transformation into coloured glass, the work also draws together two familiar subjects which appear repeatedly within Dalí’s pictorial landscape – the rhinoceros and the virgin.

The rhinoceros, and in particular its horn, held a specific emotional and symbolic significance for Dalí.

The controversial painting Jeune vierge autosodomisée par sa propre chasteté of 1954 was the first
such work to draw on the more literal visual similarities between the rhinoceros’ horn and male virility. And yet even in this initial use of the virgin counterpoised with the ‘horn’, Dalí resists an instinctive simplification of his iconography. Rather, the horn of rhinoceros is conceptualised as a symbol of chastity through its association with that of the unicorn:

‘The rhino’s horn is indeed the legendary unicorn horn, symbol of chastity. The young lady may choose to lie on it or to morally play with it; as it was usual in courtesan love epochs’.

Indeed, moving beyond associations with the mythical, the rhinoceros was believed by Dalí to be a cosmic animal, belonging to the heavenly domain in much the same way as the virgin. His explorations with the dynamics of the logarithmic spiral as a means to achieve a divine geometry led him to discover that the rhinoceros’s horn naturally conformed to this perfect structure and thus represented innate celestial attributes. Ever the provocateur, Dalí positions the virgin with the rhinoceros as a means of heightening the sexual liaison: the virile beast meeting the vulnerable virgin in a kind of cosmic marriage. However, he undoes his visual language through a balancing of symbolic opposites.

Once again Dalí conveys the unexpected, conversely championing the themes of impotence rather
than sexuality. These seemingly contradictory figures consequently serve to convey one of Dalí’s central beliefs, namely that through chastity and impotence, creative spirituality can be achieved:

‘if people make love, there is no more the spiritual strength, no more the spiritual thoughts’

The fact that this image was selected for the stained glass project at the Teatro-Museo Dalí confirms its significance within Dalí’s pictorial language. The Teatro-Museo Dalí, located in Dalí’s home town of Figueras, was inaugurated in 1974 and brought together the broadest range of works spanning his entire artistic career. Constructed from the ruins of the original Figueras theatre, and stripped of anything unnecessary, the artist was able to transform the empty space into a Dalían readymade into which he could project himself. In the event, he concerned himself with even the smallest of details and design features, and later installed his works with his usual spontaneous, if slightly haphazard, flair.


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