the daly double

Salvador Dalí. Old Age, Adolescence, and Infancy (The Three Ages). 1940.

This work successfully combines Dali’s painterly skills of creating double images with his interest in mythology. This visual puzzle illustrates the answer to the Riddle of the Sphinx from the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex. “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?” The hero of the story, Oedipus, answers that man crawls on all fours in infancy, walks upright on two legs in adolescence, and uses a cane as a third leg in old age. 

Viewed up close, this is a landscape painting of figures, ruins and mountains, but when viewed from a distance, the scene transforms into a still-life painting of three heads on pedestals, the heads defined by openings in the ruined brick wall. On the left, a woman stands in an opening: her shadowed face forms Old Age’s eye; her body forms Old Age’s nose and mouth; and a cluster of trees forms his hair. In the center opening, a young Dali and his nanny appear on a beach looking at white buildings across the bay. These buildings become Adolescence’s eyes, while the nanny’s scarf and shawl form his nose and lips. On the right, a woman mends a fishing net on the beach. Her head is Infancy’s eye, and her beaded belt is his teeth. -Dali Museum