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Divinely Dali

By WAVENEY ANN MORRE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - As he goes about his work at the Salvador Dali Museum, assistant curator Dirk Armstrong can't help overhearing visitors commenting about the work of the flamboyant Spanish surrealist.

But in the gallery where Dali's illustrations of Bible verses are displayed, there's an unusual hush.

Visitors quietly examine the pieces, concentrate on the accompanying Scripture, and often take notes, Armstrong said.

There's another reason for the quiet.

"We usually have classical music related to the exhibits, but for this show, I made a decision not to have any music," said Armstrong, the show's curator. What results is a climate conducive to both personal reflection and study, he said.

The entire collection of Dali's Biblia Sacra, which he based on passages from the Latin Vulgate Bible, is being shown in St. Petersburg for the first time.

The original pieces, created between 1963 and 1964, were commissioned by Dr. Giuseppe Albaretto, a devout Roman Catholic who hoped the experience would lead Dali back to God.

Albaretto commissioned 100 paintings, but the project grew to encompass 105 pieces.

In 1967, the images and accompanying Scriptures were published in a five-volume set. The Dali Museum has one of the 1,797 sets published. The museum's volumes carry a dedication from Dali to A. Reynolds Morse and his wife, Eleanor, friends of the artist's and collectors of his work. The couple, who assembled the largest private collection of Dali's art in the world, co-founded the St. Petersburg museum in 1982.

The Biblia Sacra is being presented in two parts. About half of the collection was shown earlier this year. Pieces from the second half can be viewed until Nov. 18.

"The collection shows a lot of different sides to Dali, the religious side and the scientific side and also the playful side," Armstrong said.

"He's 60 years old and he's not afraid to express himself."

The mixed-media compositions, which incorporate pastels, oil, splashes of metallic pigment, folded fabric, crayon and ballpoint pen, are often a riot of color. Dali adds signature touches, such as his villagescape, skull and space elephant motifs, to the pieces.

Biblia Sacra embodies Dali's artistic interpretations of biblical passages from the Old and New Testaments.

The work, which is not presented chronologically, includes illustrations of verses from the Song of Solomon, the story of Jonah and the whale, the Nativity and crucifixion of Jesus. Albaretto, the Italian doctor who commissioned the collection, hoped that it would have a positive impact on the artist's spiritual life.

Dali grew up in a household where his mother was Catholic and his father was an atheist.

"He was not known as a religious man," Armstrong said.

He had an affair with Gala, the woman who would become his wife, while she was still married to the poet Paul Eluard.

After World War II, the artist became more receptive to religion and started incorporating religious, scientific and historical references into his paintings, Armstrong said. He had audiences with Popes Pius XII and John XXIII and even renewed his marriage vows to Gala in a church ceremony. He never attended church regularly, though.

A gallery wall where his Biblia Sacra is on display carries this quote from him: "Heaven is neither above nor below, neither to the right, nor to the left. Heaven is to be found exactly in the center of the bosom of the man who has faith!"

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or

If you go

The exhibit

Dali's Biblia Sacra, half of the 105 pieces, will be on display through Nov. 18 in the Raymond James Community Room Gallery of the Salvador Dali Museum, 1000 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. Go to or call (727) 823-3767.

Fast Facts

1904 Salvador Dali is born in Figueres, Spain

1929 Holds his first one-man show in Paris

1929 Meets Gala

1989 Dies of heart failure

1982 Salvador Dali Museum opens in St. Petersburg with a collection from A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse.

[Last modified August 29, 2007, 22:30:51]

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