Crucifixion Hypercube – Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali was most famous for his outlandish portrayals of the mental landscape. Despite this, there are many more aspects to his nature and to the way in which he created his papers than we realize. Not only was he obsessed with the inner realm and the subconscious, he was also fascinated by the sciences. Although his work is abstract in its composition, consisting of seemingly unrelated subjects, his work itself was masterfully and expertly executed. This is not unlike the master of old such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo and for this reason there was so much more meaning tightly crammed into his work than usually meets the eye. We look at the meaning of his Crucifixion Hypercube and how it was constructed using mathematics.
Corpus Hypercubus (Crucifixion Hypercube) – Salvador Dali, 1954, oil on canvas. The idea of a hypercube as a means of conveying emotion appears to be a little stretched, but Dali uses the hypercube as a metaphor that most viewers would be likely to miss. The expression is Christ suspended on a non-anchored cubic cross. Dali uses his signature bold colors and impeccably crafted figures to reveal a picture of the Crucifixion that is beyond realistic. A hypercube is also known in mathematical terms as a tesseract, loosely meaning that it consists of 4 sides or lines. It is this mathematical formula that Dali uses for the cross upon which Christ hangs (Alexeev 2008). Why would Dali employ the use of mathematical theorems to explain the death of Christ? One explanation is that in the Catholic belief there are not only three entities (God, Christ and the Holy Spirit) but that Mary also features as an important symbol. This means that the faith is four dimensional, not trinity based. Because the cube that Dali uses is complete, it is folded, giving it the air of closure. If the tesseract is unfolded, it will have 8 lines (Alexeev 2008). There are other explanations for this artistic use of the 4 dimensional entity.
One has to be aware at this stage that 3 dimensionality was something that had been experimented with at the time and that the use of the 3 dimensional image was already quite common in Dali’s time. Artists prior to him, such as Cezanne and contemporaries such as Picasso were using 3D quite regularly. Dali was pushing the boundaries of art and the exploration of more intricate features. Dali seeks to give Christ the air of transcendent divinity by placing him above a squared ground and floating almost in front of the cross than pinned to it (Barrette 2007). This picture shows past, present and future of Christ. Mary is in front of him, symbolizing the birth of Christ; the cross symbolizes the crucifixion which is the present and the floating above the cross symbolizes the future resurrection of Christ. Dali uses all the dimensions in this painting that further shows his mastery of all things artistic. He uses 2 dimensional flat planes revealed by the unfolded cubes on the ground while employing the use of 3 dimensional pedestals upon which Mary stands.
No conclusion about Dali is complete without visiting the psychological. Dali’s interest in the subconscious and in the interpretation of dreams is also evident in his symbolism. We can look at the human body as a hypercube in spiritual terms. Fudjack and Dinkelaker (1999) describe the painting as a ‘personalized mandala’, one in which Dali has visited his own 4 dimensional nature. The essence of a hypercube is actually the embodiment of the hyper-body, representing the body as a series of dimensions that create a whole (Fudjack & Dinkelaker 1999). The four dimensional cross behind Christ represents the only time a three dimensional body can transcend the utmost suffering of the body. In this case, the body becomes complete with its spirit (Fudjack & Dinkelaker 1999). In this case, again, the 4 dimensional cross also reveals or compares to the two dimensional cross that is usually depicted. Figuratively of course, the cross is significant in its formulaic self, being the sum of a specific axis with significant and accurate intersections. Christ’s death was also accurate and exact even down to the resurrection. The hyperobject (cross) is transcended onto a hyperspace (canvas) and therefore creates the aura of moving around on the surface, or to ‘jump’ out of it (Fudjack & Dinkelaker 1999). The idea that Christ could be levitated into the hyperspace and be able to swivel and float in the space allows one to believe that even before the resurrection, Christ is already beyond the understanding of humanity. The image is presented not only as if it is floating but also as if it moving to and from the cross in a parallel movement. If one were to view it from one angle it would appear that Christ is actually lifting away from the cross but in another angle, Christ is moving towards the cross. Even if one stares at it straight on, it appears to move. This is perhaps indicative of the omniscience of the Christ figure and of the Christian belief that He sees all and knows all. Science is used to explain humanity and living beings and it is no different where Dali is concerned. However, what he is trying to ‘explain’ here is not merely humanity, but a human with supernatural ‘powers’. The way that Dali tries to express this supernatural quality is not in the body but in the cross.
Dali has created both a symbolic and a literal interpretation of the death of Christ and rather than trying to dwell on the suffering, blood and pain of the occasion, seeks to elucidate the good qualities of the crucifixion. He amalgamates the past, present and future of the Christ’s life. He tries to celebrate the transcendent nature of Christ not his mortality while also exploring the possibility that mortals also possess transcendent qualities. The hypercube is the symbol of multi-facets similar to that of a diamond that refracts off its various sides and lines to create the expanded version of itself. Essentially, Dali is trying to explore the expanded version of himself and of Christ as an iconic figure. Dali also experiments with more difficult elements of art, aspects that require detailed and directedness. The creation of an accurate and proportionate hypercube is very difficult and requires a special talent for scientific method.
Alexeev, Vlad. Hypercube. Impossible World. 2008.
Barrette, Brandon. Salvador Dali and his Fascination with the Mathematical Sciences. University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. (Department of Foreign Languages). April 2007. http://www.uwec.edu/Math/Research/posters/2007_barretbpdali.pdf
Fudjack, John & Dinkelaker, Patricia. The “Self” as Hyperbody: Nested Realities in the “Fourth Dimension”. June 1999. http://tap3x.net/EMBTI/j5hyperbody.html