By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
I’m returning today to Salvador Dalí’s monumental masterpiece, Christ of St. John of the Cross, upon news of its long-awaited return home. Scotland’s favorite work of art had been away from the Kelvingrove Art Museum in Glasgow for months – first on loan to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, then a stint at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Now the nearly 7-foot-tall canvas – possibly the most popular religious painting of the 20th century – is back in its permanent digs.
Can you think of any other painting whose return after being out on loan would warrant stories in major news outlets? The BBC News, under the headline, “One of the Best-Known Paintings in Scotland has Returned to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow,” wrote:
“Glasgow Life chairman David McDonald said, ‘After a hugely successful visit to the Royal Academy and the Dalí Museum it’s wonderful to welcome Christ of St. John of the Cross back to Kelvingrove, in time for the upcoming holiday period. The must-see painting is one of the best-loved works in Glasgow Museum’ entire collection, for both tourists and Glaswegians alike. It’s certain to captivate the thousands of people who will visit the museum during the summer months.’”
Art Daily’s headline read, “Dalí’s ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’ back on show at Kelvingrove Museum.”
This is a big deal, folks! Surely you realize the immense importance and stunning grandeur of this very special masterpiece.
I recently wrote a post here at The Salvador Dalí Society® about the horror of showing up at a museum that owns an art piece you’ve had on your bucket list, only to be shocked to learn the piece is on-loan somewhere.
Can you imagine the agony of this happening, after making the trip to Glasgow to finally see in person the iconic Christ of St. John of the Cross? I’m not sure there’s a word to adequately describe how deeply the sorrow and frustration would cut.
The very core of Salvador Dalí’s genius is embodied in a work like Christ of St. John of the Cross. Grown men have literally wept upon seeing it in person.
Why? What makes this painting so magical?
I believe the answer is found on two main levels. One is the unique way Dalí portrayed the crucified messiah: not with a cruel and humiliating crown of thorns; nor nailed wrists and feet; nor bloodied spear-pierced side – but, instead, as a symbol of beauty. Of a joyous arisen son of God. With a beautiful, unharmed body – fit, strong, perfect.
All seen from an unprecedented vantage point, from above – as if God Himself is looking down to welcome the ascension of His Son.
The other level on which Dalí’s Christ is so admired is the virtuosity of its execution. Dalí’s command of his craft was masterfully displayed in the anatomical realism, the handling of light, the stunning nature of the sky and clouds. It looks indeed like it might have been painted by Leonardo or Velazquez or Caravaggio.
A vote in Scotland some years back placed the Dalí masterpiece as the country’s favorite work of art. It’s easy to see why. And when such a glorious triumph of art history returns home, it’s a homecoming worthy of international headlines.
Yet I have to wonder why Christ of St. John of the Cross’s several-month stay in St. Pete wasn’t a headline in every major American newspaper. Why it wasn’t a story on every major network news show.
I don’t think it’s overstatement to say that Dalí’s Christ of St. John of the Cross is one of the most famous – and certainly one of the most remarkably executed paintings – in history.
The Persistence of Memory is surely Salvador Dalí’s most renowned painting. But Christ of St. John of the Cross might be his best.
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)