Salvador Dali, Saint John of The Cross


Salvador Dali, not really an artist I like but, this painting I found most interesting. It is described as the greatest crucifixion painting of the 20th century. A guardian journalist described it as “kitsch and lurid”. I saw this painting at an exhibition of Dali’s work in the basement of the National Gallery in London. It is a striking and beautiful image, what struck me most about the painting was the craft and attention to detail. The sides of the canvas were as perfect as the front. I have never seen a painting so well-built.

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 drawing was based on vision had by Saint John, visionaries were common at this time, perhaps due to the catholic church drop in popularity. 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 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.

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. The controversy caused Honeyman and Dali to become friends, corresponding with each other for many years after the original events.

The painting first went on display at the city’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery  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. 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.