Salvador Dalí uses symbols repeatedly throughout his work. His symbols are influenced by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who had the idea that dreams could be interpreted symbolically.
Symbols have been defined through art history; however, Dalí’s use of symbols is unique and fluid. Some are defined by the period of his work; others have multiple meanings.
Explore through our curated collection, with an eye towards these symbols. In this self-guided tour, discover the meaning behind Dalí’s symbols and where to find them. You can imagine the infinite possibilities….
Please Note: Not all pieces are on view in the galleries at all times.
For more information on the Dalí Museum permanent collection, please visit our website at http://www.thedali.org.
The Angelus couple symbolizes sexual anxiety. The peasant couple is derived from Dalí’s obsession with the 1857-59 painting, The Angelus, by Jean-François Millet.
Ants symbolize death, decay, and decadence. The young Dalí watched in shock and fascination as the decomposed remains of small animals were eaten by ants.
Bread symbolizes three things. In his early work, it is defined as a staple of life. In his Surrealist work, it is a fetish. In his later work, it is a Catholic reference to the Eucharist (the body of Christ).
The crutch most often symbolizes a fear of impotence and death, and on occasion snobbery. In addition, Dalí’s crutch owes a debt to the crutch in the Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s print series, “Los caprichos”, produced in 1797-98.
The egg symbolizes two things. In his Surrealist work, it is a symbol of his pre-birth memories of being inside the womb. In his later work, the egg symbolizes purity and perfection.
Father and Son
The father and son figures symbolize a time when Dalí and his father were close. This symbol emerges after a falling out with his father.
Flies symbolize multiple concepts. Traditionally they symbolize death and decay, but for Dalí, they also symbolize whimsy and in later works, Catalan identity.
Girl Skipping Rope
The girl skipping rope symbolizes innocence and curiosity. It was inspired by the shape of a bell tower from a school his sister attended.
Grasshoppers symbolize fear. Young Dalí held a slimy fish in his hands and visualized the face of a grasshopper. Terrified by the similarities, he developed a lifelong phobia.
The key symbolizes unlocking the unconscious and exploring the mind. The key is a symbol adapted from Sigmund Freud, and also has sexual connotations.
The melting watch symbolizes the fluidity of time. According to Dalí, this image came to his imagination after watching Camembert cheese melt in the sun.
The nanny symbolizes Dalí’s childhood nurse, Lucia. A strong influence on Dalí’s life, she appears in a pose like the net menders Dalí saw on the beach of Port Lligat.
The piano symbolizes two conflicting childhood memories: a fond memory of summer concerts when a piano was placed on the beach of Cadaqués, and a horrifying memory of books his father laid upon the family piano, illustrating sexually transmitted diseases.
Roses symbolize feminine beauty, transformation, and female sexuality.
Soft Self-Portrait Head
Dalí’s self-portrait is represented in the form of this softened head. In early works, it symbolizes sexual anxiety. The shape of his soft self-portrait was inspired by a rock that resembled a human head in Cap de Creus, near his home in Spain.
Snail shells symbolize protection and self-preservation. Dalí is enchanted by their spiral formation and their hard amour-like shell with a soft interior. Dalí relates the snail to Sigmund Freud’s head after encountering one on the way to their only meeting.
Venus de Milo
The Venus de Milo symbolizes female beauty and love. Dalí first discovered the double image, which became the central illusion in his painting The Hallucinogenic Toreador, when he saw the Venus figure printed on a box of Venus brand pencils.