“CRISTO DE SAN JUAN DE LA CRUZ”, by SALVADOR DALI, ‘Scotland’s Favorite Painting’: Catalan Surrealist maestro was inspired by a crucifixion sketch by mystic 16th century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross

Published December 15, 2012 by goyodelarosa

Christ of Saint John of the Cross

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Christ of Saint John of the Cross
Salvador Dalí
Year 1951
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 205 cm × 116 cm (80.7 in × 45.67 in)
Location Kelvingrove Art Gallery and MuseumGlasgow

Christ of Saint John of the Cross is a painting by Salvador Dalí made in 1951. It depicts Jesus Christ on the cross in a darkened sky floating over a body of water complete with a boat and fishermen. Although it is a depiction of the crucifixion, it is devoid of nails, blood, and a crown of thorns, because, according to Dalí, he was convinced by a dream that these features would mar his depiction of Christ. Also in a dream, the importance of depicting Christ in the extreme angle evident in the painting was revealed to him.




Crucifixion sketch by St. John of the Cross. Dali was inspired by this drawing.

The painting is known as the “Christ of Saint John of the Cross,” because its design is based on a drawing by the 16th century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross. The composition of Christ is also based on a triangle and circle (the triangle is formed by Christ’s arms; the circle is formed by Christ’s head). The triangle, since it has three sides, can be seen as a reference to the Trinity, and the circle may be an allusion to Platonic thought. The circle represents Unity: all things do exist in the ‘three’ but in the four, merry they be.[1]


On the bottom of his studies for the painting, Dalí explained its inspiration: “In the first place, in 1950, I had a ‘cosmic dream’ in which I saw this image in colour 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!”[2]

In order to create the figure of Christ, Dali had Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders suspended from an overhead gantry, so he could see how the body would appear from the desired angle.[3]


The painting and intellectual property rights were acquired for Glasgow Corporation in the early 1950s by Tom Honeyman, then the Director of Glasgow Museums. Honeyman got the painting for £8,200, a price considered high at the time although it was less than the £12,000 catalogue price, and included the copyright, which has earned Glasgow Museums back the original cost many times over.[4]

The purchase was controversial. A petition against the purchase, arguing that the money should be spent on exhibition space for local artists, was presented to the City Council by students at Glasgow School of Art.[5] The controversy caused Honeyman and Dali to become friends, corresponding with each other for many years after the original events.[3]

The painting first went on display at the city’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on 23 June 1952. In 1961, a visitor attacked the painting with a stone and tore the canvas with his hands. It was successfully restored over several months by conservators at Kelvingrove and returned to public display.[6] In 1993, the painting was moved to the city’s St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, but returned to Kelvingrove for its reopening in July 2006. It won a poll to decide Scotland‘s favourite painting in 2006, with 29% of the vote.[7]

Critical reception

The painting has continued to generate controversy. At the time of its purchase by Honeyman, the verdict by Modern Art critics was that producing such a traditional painting was a stunt by an artist already famous for his surrealist art.[4] In 2009 the Guardian art critic, Jonathan Jones, described it as “kitsch and lurid,” but noted that the painting was “for better or worse, probably the most enduring vision of the crucifixion painted in the 20th century.”[8]

Spanish offer

The Spanish government is said to have offered £80 million ($127 million USD) for the painting, but the offer was turned down.[9]


  1. ^ Gaultier, Alyse. The Little Book of Dali. Paris: Flammarion, 2004.
  2. ^ Descharnes, Robert. Dali. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2003.
  3. a b Davies, Gill Davies (23 June 2011). “Scotland’s favourite painting: Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross”. BBC Scotland.
  4. a b “Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ Scotland’s Favorite”Art Knowledge News. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  5. ^ “Controversy”. Glasgow Museums. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  6. ^ Polly Smith, Senior Conservator (8 Jul 2011). “How to Restore a Salvador Dali Masterpiece”. Glasgow Museums. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  7. ^ “Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ Wins Herald Poll”, GlasgowMuseums.com, August 30, 2005.
  8. ^ Jones, Jonathan (27 January 2009). “Kitsch and lurid but also a glimpse of a strange soul”The Guardian.
  9. ^ Ross, Peter (July 2, 2006). Palace of dreams — That’s how Kelvingrove was described …The Herald (Glasgow)

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