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Metamorphosis of Narcissus
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ssohail's picture

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Most of Dali’s surreal paintings are certainly dome-scratchers when it comes to interpretation, but this one is kinda self-explanatory if you read the title.

It may seem at first glance that this painting is just a trippy mirror image of the grey and yellow forms in the foreground, but you gotta look closely at the background. Those aren’t just fillers back there. Dali put those in for a reason! They’re part of his four segments of Narcissus’s life and they’re telling a story too. Yep, it’s that same Narcissus from Greek mythology, whose name gave us that lovely term “narcissistic” which one applies liberally to those who take too many selfies or update their snapchat way too much. (Note: this term can also be applied to exes who started all those conversations only to hear themselves speak.)

Getting back to this Dali, let's start with the figure standing on the chessboard in the back. Clearly, that’s our protagonist, young Narcissus, who sees himself as the only important piece in the chessboard of life. Mostly because he thought he was super hot. Sound familiar? Well, it’s about to hit even closer to home. Legend has it that Narcissus thought he was too sexy to even take on a lover/partner. So he rejected many of the eligible wood nymphs that were vying for his attention. Pictured here as ladies in the background weeping, yet some also seem to be dancing. I’ll explain the second half in a moment. When Nemesis hears of Narcissus rejecting chicks left, right and centre, she decides to punish Narcissus. She shows him to a pool in which he sees his reflection and falls in love with it…only to find out later that the reflection cannot love him back. Dali shows that depressing thought and its effect on Narcissus in the yellow figure that is drooped over a pond. Getting a taste of his own unrequited love is too much for Narcissus and he ultimately ends up committing suicide. This is where the dancing ladies come in…some of these rejected lovelies are actually stoked that he’s dead.

Dali uses that last bit of Narcissus’s life (and death) to employ his paranoic-critical method, which I’ve explained once before in this review so don’t make me do it again. We think that grey hand is a reflection of the yellow body of Narcissus, or vice verse…but it’s actually just a hand. It could even be Echo’s hand, who was so sad when he rejected her that her body turned to stone. Those mountains in the back could also be an indication of her presence…cause that’s where you hear echoes, duh. Anyway, the dead, stony hand is holding up an egg out of which a flower hatches. And it’s not just any flower…it’s a narcissus! The ants crawling up are signature Dali and they show how beauty and the body are all ultimately meant to be maggot-fodder. There’s also a dog tearing up some flesh in the corner, which one assumes belongs to the late Narcissus.

Moral of the story: we all die no matter how pretty we are and consequently become manure for flowers that will be named after us. That last part may require some fact-checking, tho.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. “Salvador Dali – Metamorphosis of Narcissus Analysis”, Classical Arts Universe, http://classicalartsuniverse.com/salvador-dali-metamorphosis-of-narcissu...

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) is an oil-on-canvas painting by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. This painting is from Dalí's paranoiac-critical period. According to Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Unable to embrace the watery image, he pined away, and the gods immortalized him as a flower. Dalí completed this painting in 1937 on his long-awaited return to Paris after having had great success in the United States.

The painting shows Narcissus sitting in a pool, gazing down. Not far away there is a decaying stone figure which corresponds closely to him but is perceived quite differently; as a hand holding up a bulb or egg from which a Narcissus is growing. The egg has been used as a symbol for sexuality in other paintings by Dalí. In the background, a group of naked figures can be seen, while a third Narcissus like figure appears on the horizon.

Dalí wrote the following poem, which accompanied the painting when it was initially exhibited:

Under the split in the retreating black cloud

the invisible scale of spring is oscillating in the fresh April sky. On the highest mountain, the god of the snow, his dazzling head bent over the dizzy space of reflections, starts melting with desire in the vertical cataracts of the thaw annihilating himself loudly among the excremental cries of minerals, or between [sic] the silences of mosses towards the distant mirror of the lake in which, the veils of winter having disappeared, he has newly discovered the lightning flash of his faithful image. It seems that with the loss of his divinity the whole high plateau pours itself out, crashes and crumbles among the solitude and the incurable silence of iron oxides while its dead weight raises the entire swarming and apotheosic plateau from the plain from which already thrust towards the sky the artesian fountains of grass and from which rise, erect, tender, and hard, the innumerable floral spears of the deafening armies of the germination of the narcissi. Already the heterosexual group, in the renowned poses of preliminary expectation, conscientiously ponders over the threatening libidinous cataclysm, the carnivorous blooming of its latent morphological atavisms. In the heterosexual group, in that kind date of the year (but not excessively beloved or mild), there are the Hindou tart, oily, sugared like an August date, the Catalan with his grave back well planted in a sun-tide, a Whitsuntide of flesh inside his brain, the blond flesh-eating German, the brown mists of mathematics in the dimples of his cloudy knees, there is the English woman, the Russian, the Swedish women, the American and the tall darkling Andalusian, hardy with glands and olive with anguish. Far from the heterosexual group, the shadows of the avanced [sic] afternoon draw out across the countryside, and cold lays hold of the adolescent’s nakedness as he lingers at the water’s edge. When the clear and divine body of Narcissus leans down to the obscure mirror of the lake, when his white torso folded forward fixes itself, frozen, in the silvered and hypnotic curve of his desire, when the time passes on the clock of the flowers of the sand of his own flesh, Narcissus loses his being in the cosmic vertigo in the deepest depths of which is singing the cold and Dyonisiac siren of his own image. The body of Narcissus flows out and loses itself in the abyss of his reflection, like the sand glass that will not be turned again. Narcissus, you are losing your body, carried away and confounded by the millenary reflection of your disappearance your body stricken dead falls to the topaz precipice with yellow wreckage of love, your white body, swallowed up, follows the slope of the savagely mineral torrent of the black precious stones with pungent perfumes, your body ... down to the unglazed mouths of the night on the edge of which there sparkles already all the red silverware of dawns with veins broken in ‘the wharves of blood’. Narcissus, do you understand? Symmetry, divine hypnosis of the mind’s geometry, already fills up your head, with that incurable sleep, vegetable, atavistic, slow Which withers up the brain in the parchment substance of the kernel of your nearing metamorphosis. The seed of your head has just fallen into the water. Man returns to the vegetable state by fatigue-laden sleep and the gods by the transparent hypnosis of their passions. Narcissus, you are so immobile one would think you were asleep. If it were a question of Hercules rough and brown, one would say: he sleeps like a bole [sic] in the posture of an Herculean oak. But you, Narcissus, made of perfumed bloomings of transparent adolescence, you sleep like a water flower. Now the great mystery draws near, the great metamorphosis is about to occur. 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 excrement-eating 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,

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Metamorphosis of Narcissus.