Following the atomic explosion over Hiroshima in 1945, Dali 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. Dali was a great admirer of renaissance Old Masters - Da Vinci
- to be specific. The skull section in this work is based upon the inside of the dome of the Pantheon building in Rome.
Dali 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.