Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí believed that there was a special kinship between him and Dutch Golden Age artist Johannes Vermeer. The fact that Dalí had been born in 1904, more than 250 years after Vermeer had first entered the world, didn’t seem to matter to him to him. The fact that Vermeer’s oeuvre is characterised by exquisite yet often sombre interior scenes of Dutch middle class life in the 17th Century, seemingly in stark contrast to the Surrealist creations that Dalí was bringing forth in the 20th Century, didn’t seem to alter Dalí’s view point either.

Both Vermeer as a character and Vermeer’s artistic creations were referenced in a number of Dalí’s oil paintings over the course of his career, and by 1950s Dalí had become convinced that he and Vermeer had shared a number artistic dispositions including, most surreally of all, the belief that Vermeer had discovered, just like Dalí, the truth that the rhinoceros horn was the clearest and finest example of a logarithmic spiral in all of nature. In fact Dalí firmly believed that Vermeer’s 1669 oil painting The Lacemaker was, in terms of its geometrics and morphology, entirely composed of rhinoceros horn shapes. It was part of the Spaniard’s contention that the work of all of the old masters exhibited what he termed ‘latent rhinocerisation’.

Dalí was also convinced that the rhinoceros horn was a subconscious symbol of aggression and violence, which on the face of it seems like an odd aspersion to cast considering the subject and the activity on display in The Lacemaker. As Dalí himself said, “Up until now The Lacemaker has always been considered a very peaceful, very calm painting, but for me it is possessed by the most violent aesthetic power, to which only the recently discovered antiproton can be compared”. In fact he even said that if the Vermeer painting ever found itself in a battle with an actual rhino, the canvas would win on account of it having more horns on display, and therefore more power. It’s known that in some cultures the rhino’s horn is valued for its aphrodisiac qualities and as a symbol of male potency and power, but whether Vermeer was subconsciously filling his canvases with them is a little less clear.

Dalí created his own versions of the painting, The Lacemaker (After Vermeer) from 1955, The Paranoiac Critical Study Of Vermeer’s Lacemaker created between 1954 and 1955, emphasising the rhinoceros horn qualities that he felt were present, but that were perhaps not clear enough. Vermeer himself served as a central figure in the 1934 work The Ghost Of Vermeer Of Delft Which Can Be Used As A Table, shown above, which lifted details of Vermeer’s clothing and appearance from the Dutchman’s 1666 allegorical work The Art Of Painting. For Dalí, the obsession with Vermeer began in his youth and the painter would continue to appear and to influence Dalí’s work to varying degrees for the duration of his career.