Salvador Dalí employed extensive symbolism in his work. For instance, the hallmark “melting watches” that first appear in The Persistence of Memory suggest Einstein’s theory that time is relative and not fixed. The idea for clocks functioning symbolically in this way came to Dalí when he was staring at a runny piece of Camembert cheese on a hot August day.
The elephant is also a recurring image in Dalí’s works. It appeared in his 1944 work Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. The elephants, inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture base in Rome of an elephant carrying an ancient obelisk, are portrayed “with long, multijointed, almost invisible legs of desire” along with obelisks on their backs. Coupled with the image of their brittle legs, these encumbrances, noted for their phallic overtones, create a sense of phantom reality.
“The elephant is a distortion in space”, one analysis explains, “its spindly legs contrasting the idea of weightlessness with structure.” “I am painting pictures which make me die for joy, I am creating with an absolute naturalness, without the slightest aesthetic concern, I am making things that inspire me with a profound emotion and I am trying to paint them honestly.” —Salvador Dalí, in Dawn Ades, Dalí and Surrealism.
The egg is another common Dalíesque image. He connects the egg to the prenatal and intrauterine, thus using it to symbolize hope and love; it appears in The Great Masturbator and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. The Metamorphosis of Narcissus also symbolized death and petrification.
Various other animals appear throughout his work as well: ants point to death, decay, and immense sexual desire; the snail is connected to the human head (he saw a snail on a bicycle outside Freud’s house when he first met Sigmund Freud); and locusts are a symbol of waste and fear.
Both Dalí and his father enjoyed eating sea urchins, freshly caught in the sea near Cadaqués. The symmetry of the sea urchin fascinated Dalí and adapted its form to many art works and other foods also appear throughout his work.