1907 – 1960
Age of Global Conflict

Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Salvador Dalí, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937, oil on canvas,
51.1 x 78.1 cm (Tate Modern, London)

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

The ancient source of this subject is Ovid's Metamorphosis (Book 3, lines 339-507) tells of Narcissus who upon seeing his own image reflected in a pool so falls in love that he could not look away, eventually he vanishes and in his place is a "sweet flower, gold and white, the white around the gold."

Dalí's poem, below, accompanied the painting when it was initially exhibited:

Narcissus,
in his immobility,
absorbed by his reflection with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,
becomes invisible.
There remains of him only the hallucinatingly white oval of his head,
his head again more tender,
his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs,
his head held up by the tips of the water's fingers,
at the tips of the fingers
of the insensate hand,
of the terrible hand,
of the mortal hand
of his own reflection.
When that head slits
when that head splits
when that head bursts,
it will be the flower,
the new Narcissus,
Gala - my Narcissus

Your Comments (4)

Previous Comments

Miek Messerschmidt wrote on Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I am a mathematician, with an interest in stereoscoping images. Dali painted stereoscopic paintings, best viewed with 'the cross-eye' method. Whenever two figures appear in a Dali painting, applying the cross-eye method often yields surprising results. In 'Metamorphosis of Narcissus', appying the method yields a stereoscopic image that seems to phase between the two painted images - a metamorphisis. Also in the painting 'In search of the fourth dimension', the two geometric figures form the top and bottom half of a dodecahedron. When appying the cross-eye method to these figures, it results in a stereoscopic dodecahedron, appearing to cycle between black and an image with figures in the dodecahedron. The image 'moves' in time -- the fourth dimension. Are art historians are aware of this?

Daniel Pigeon wrote on Thursday, March 31, 2011

The simultaneous depictions of two things in one is remarkable. Dali's understanding of perception is really displayed in this work. The perception of the unconscious and the physical world are fused together and create this world that could be real although shouldn't be. Perhaps this makes reference to the world events, like war of his epoch.

Asad Jaleel wrote on Thursday, July 05, 2012

There is a moment when I watched this where my consciousness shifted from seeing a yellow hand holding a rock to seeing a crouching man. That moment is magic. Thank you for that.

Amanda Van Gelder wrote on Monday, March 04, 2013

The two depictions representing Freud's theory of concscious and unconscious thought make me think that this is a self portrait of Dali. On the left, he paints his conscious, physical self, while on the right he paints his unconscious, which seems to be a desire of idealized beauty. This also relates to the figures in the background: the androgenous looking group of figures seem to be of Dali's physical world, whereas the sculpture sitting on a pedestal on the right seems to be a depiction of David, which was iconic for it's celebration of male beauty.

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Where and When

Dali, Metamorphosis of Narcissus
Paris, France
1937

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