As this Easter weekend comes to an end, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite paintings of Jesus, the Christ: Salvador Dalí’s “Christ of Saint John of the Cross.” Produced in 1951, it is a perfect example of surrealism. But, it also presents Jesus at perhaps his most vulnerable. The viewer sees him from God’s vantage point; making the Savior look as humble and helpless as the average person.
Dalí based his delineation on a drawing by a 16th century Spanish friar, John of the Cross. As befitting his eccentric personality, Dalí had a perfect explanation for his inspiration. “In the first place, in 1950, 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!”
To create the unique angle and obtain a true sense of how the human male form would look, Dalí enlisted Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders to be suspended from an overhead galley. The painting first appeared in public at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland on June 23, 1952 – and became an instant source of controversy. Many considered it blasphemous, even though a traditional crucifix can be turned over and produce the same view. Others saw it as just plain tacky.
Dalí, who died in 1989, had a simple understanding of his own art. “Surrealism is destructive. But, it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”