The face in this painting is influenced by a Madonna by the Renaissance artist, Raphael. Dalí has fragmented the head to show how the sense of order from the past, illustrated by the balance and reason of a classical icon, has been shattered by the advent of nuclear weapons. The motif of the shattered head was a common one amongst artists in the post-war years. This reflects the emotional turmoil of a period when nuclear war seemed like a reality, following the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this context, the delicate halo of the Madonna now suggests a nuclear mushroom cloud and her expression, with eyes downcast in prayer, seems particularly appropriate.
Following the atomic explosion over Hiroshima in 1945, Dalí painted a number of fragmented heads and figures. Some of the shapes that form the head in this painting are solid and phallic shaped - inspired by rhinoceros horns. The upper area of the painting, with the halo and brown clouds resembles photographs of atomic explosions. The female face, with its tender expression and thin halo, is recognisable as the face of a Madonna by Raphael. Dalí was a great admirer of Old Master paintings. The skull section in this work is based upon the inside of the dome of the Pantheon building in Rome.
Dalí was born in Catalonia, Spain. After being thrown out of art school in Madrid in 1923, he experimented with a range of styles. By 1927 he began to move away from Cubism towards Surrealism. He was a keen follower of developments in surrealist art and literature and met Miró, a fellow Catalan and Surrealist, in 1927. A talented self-publicist, Dalí cultivated his eccentric personality as carefully as his meticulous, academic technique, inspired by the Old Masters. In addition to being a painter, sculptor, graphic artist and designer, Dalí collaborated in the making of the first surrealist film, 'Un chien andalou' in 1929.