The renowned artist did not have a special scientific training, although this interest did allow him to recognize the importance of science in 20th century society.
With nothing more to observe some of the titles of his works we immediately find some references to physics: Melancholy Atomic and Eulanic Idyll (1945), Atomic Leda (1949) and also to biochemistry, as in Butterfly Landscape (The Great Masturbator in a Surreal Landscape with DNA) (1957), Galacidacidesoxiribunucleicacid (Homage to Crick and Watson) (1963) or The Structure of DNA. Stereoscopic work (1973). In other cases, the relationship with science is not only found in the title, but we must see the work itself.
The golden ratio
Mathematics is not outside Salvador Dalí’s work. In fact, Atomic Leda contains a composition based on the golden ratio, as does Giant Cup flying, with incomprehensible appendage five meters long (1944).
Percenties may be his relationship with Matila Ghyka, a prolific author who was quite obsessed with the golden number and who published several books about him, behind this use of mathematics. In any case, the mathematics existing in Dalí’s work are not restricted to composition.
Cubes and cubic structures
Dalí was passionate about cubes and cubic structure. He demonstrates this in several of his paintings: perhaps the most important and well-known is Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954), in which he depicts Jesus crucified in a hypercube. We live in a three-dimensional space and that is the space where we move every day and where the cubes «habit». If we lowered a dimension instead of being in 3D space we would be on a plane and we can all intuit that the analogto to the three-dimensional cube in the case of the plane (which is two-dimensional) would be the square.
The hypercube (or Tessact) is again an analogue, but this time in a space with four dimensions. The figure in the chart would be the three-dimensional development of the dimension 4 hypercube. In this way, Dalí represents Jesus in a greater dimension. However, Mary is crying down on Earth, where you can see the shadow (two-dimensional and represented in maroon color) of the hypercube that forms the cross. Understanding the fourth dimension led Salvador Dalí to strike up a friendship and collaboration with mathematician Tomas Banchoff.
A very little-known painting
Salvador Dalí’s strong relationship with the cubes is also evident in the table On the purpose of Juan de Herrera’s «Discourse on the Cubic Form» (1960). Juan de Herrera was the architect of the monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial and founder and first director of the Academy of Mathematics and Delineation, which would later become the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences. This painting, quite unknown, also has a combinatorial curiosity: on the faces of the described cube is represented in many directions the text «Silo princeps fecit», just as it appears in the labyrinthine stone of King Silo of Santianes of Pravia, in Asturias.
Would Dalí want to make a three-dimensional representation of this acrostic? Perhaps this is the answer, but it could also be that I would like to take it a step further and take it into the space of four dimensions, since the way in which «the cube» appears, when you consider the strings that are represented in the picture, we see that it is also the representation of a hypercube: not its development, but its projection, what in mathematics we know as Schlegel diagram.
The Chupa-Chups logo
Perhaps one of the most unknown facets of Salvador Dalí is the designer of the Chupa-Chups brand logo. In 1969, the company asked Dalí to improve the brand’s image and it did so. The work was good, since 50 years later the design he made is still used, which is based on the graph of the curve r-sen(4-/3) in polar coordinates. If we remember the image of the brand and see this figure you can better understand this relationship:
Logo of Chupa Chups.. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SAHablar de Dalí and mathematics necessarily leads us to optical illusions. Although all of them are not strictly mathematical, we can take into account anamorphosis, which are deformations of images that are apparently difficult to interpret but that from a certain point of view make sense.
Those who have visited the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueras will remember Gala naked looking at the sea that at 18 meters appears President Lincoln (1975) or Face of Mae West used as an apartment (1974). These may be followed by some lithographs designed to be reflected in a cylindrical mirror, and which appear to be for sale and can be viewed on this page.
As these things change it is better to give a stable reference: they can be seen in Al Seckel’s book Masters of Deception (prologized by mathematician Douglas Hofstadter). Nor can we forget, and it is an essential reference, the collaboration that Salvador Dalí maintained with Walt Disney creating Destiny, a short film started in 1946, which did not come to light until 2003 and which is full of optical illusions.
Another key reference in Salvador Dali’s relationship with mathematics is the fact that he met Martin Gardner, the person who for more than 25 years published the mathematical games column in the journal Scientific American. Gardner says that several times they remained in New York and that Dalí was a reader of his writings and talked about science and, in particular, optical illusions.
From rabbit to cisnelefante
There’s a familiar illusion, the rabbit, that as you look at it you see a rabbit or a duck. It can be found by doing a simple internet search. What is not so simple is to find the cisnelefante, which was created by Dalí in Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937). According to Gardner in his autobiography, on one occasion he was going to eat with Dalí he wore a porcelain model of the rabbit and gave it to him, giving him an idea to design a cisnelefante ashtray that served as a gift for Air India customers in 1967.
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domenech, Marquis of Dalí of Púbol, a polyhedral or polytopic character (a polytope is analogous to polyhedron but in dimensions greater than 3) of which we have much to talk about.
Fernando Blasco, Professor of University of Applied Mathematics. Area of interest: education, dissemination and scientific communication., Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM)
This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.