Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Christ of Saint John of the Cross

April 13th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie


Continuing our Lenten series on crosses, crucifixes and crucifixion scenes

Previously here

(Click on pictures for larger images)

Christ of Saint John of the Cross

By Salvador Dali, 1951

This very unusual crucifixion scene was inspired by two experiences of Dali. “In the first place, I had a ‘cosmic dream’ in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the ‘nucleus of the atom.’ This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it ‘the very unity of the universe’, the Christ!”  In the second place, Dali was directed by a Carmelite priest to a drawing of the crucified Christ made by St. John of the Cross following a mystical vision.

In both instances the viewpoint is from above the cross, looking down rather than a traditional frontal or low angle view.  It is almost as if we are being invited to see the crucified Lord from the viewpoint of heaven, from the Father’s viewpoint.  The seascape in the bottom part of the painting is rendered in normal perspective and so we seem to be transported to another dimension that is both real because of the realistic treatment of forms and surfaces, and dream-like because of the incorporation of two different perspectives. The scene is surreal.

In fact Salvador Dali is probably the single best-known Surrealist artist. Surrealism can be found throughout the history of art but its most concentrated period as a distinct movement was from 1924 to 1950. It is a style in which dream-like imagery from the subconscious mind is used with no intention of making the work logically comprehensible. It was primarily a European movement that attracted artists of the radical Dada movement and was deeply influenced by the psychoanalytical work of Freud and Jung. Dali eventually broke with the members of the Surrealists group due to his right-wing politics as leftism became the fashion among Surrealists, as it was in almost all intellectual circles.

Corpus Hypercubus, 1954

Dali, born Catholic, became an atheist but returned later to Catholicism combining in his work Catholic imagery with his so-called ‘nuclear mysticism.’ In addition to the “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” he painted other religious works like his “Corpus Hypercubus”  in which “Christ is suspended on an eight sided dodecahedron –an octahedral hypercube or a cube in the fourth dimension.” Dali called this

“Metaphysical, transcendent cubism, it is based entirely on the Trearise on Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, Philip the 2nd’s architect, builder of the Escorial Palace: it is a treatise inspired by Ars Magna of the Catalonian philosopher and alchemist Raymond Llle. The cross is formed by an octahedral hypercube. The number nine is identifiable and becomes especiall consubstantial with the body of Christ. The extremely noble figure of Gala is the perfect union of the development of the hyper cubic octahedron on the human level of the cube. She is depicted in front of the Bay of Port Lligat. The most noble beings were painted by Velazques and Zurbaran; I only approach nobility while painting Gala, and nobility can only be inspired by the human being.”

(I have no idea what that all means except that I know Gala was his wife and the Bay of Port Lligat is where they had a home! And, yes, I know the work of Velazques and Zurbaran.)

Thomas Banchoff a Brown professor who did pioneering work using computer graphics to illustrate geometry beyond the third dimension in the 1970’s insists that Dali “… knew what he was talking about; he was not just using the symbols.”

In the “Christ of Saint John of the Cross”, Dali worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle, which “aesthetically summarized my previous experiments, and I inscribed my Christ in this triangle.” The cross forms a triangle symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Christ’s head forms a circle within the triangle meaning that Christ, and the fulfillment of His Father’s will, is the center and meaning of everything in the universe. Christ and His Father’s love for us should be at the center of every person’s life.


“Christ of Saint John of the Cross” was not well received when it was first exhibited in London and was called “banal” by an important art critic. Several years later -1961- it was slashed by a fanatic upset over the unusual perspective of looking down on the cross. Repaired, it hangs in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2006, with 29% of the vote, “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” won a poll to decided Scotland’s favorite painting.

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3 Responses to “Christ of Saint John of the Cross”

  1. avatar Christopher says:

    Bernie, I found this very informative, thanks for your work. I have a greater understanding and appreciation for art everytime I read some of your posts.

  2. avatar Bernie says:

    Thank you, Christopher!
    Thank you for taking to time to let me know.

  3. avatar Dr. Stanley Wesolowsky says:

    Thank You, Christopher!

    If the movements of the eyes of the viewer are studied, then this triple down-
    ward movement leads us back up again, where Christ in the link between time and eternity.

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