Object type



Christ of St John of the Cross


Salvador Dali artist



Place Associated

Spain, Port Lligat (place of manufacture)


summer 1951


oil on canvas


framed: 2385 mm x 1488 mm x 95 mm x 90000 g; unframed: 2048 mm x 1159 mm


Positioned on a cross which hovers over a watery landscape, Salvador Dali’s 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' is radically different from other crucifixions. While simultaneously looking directly out across the water, viewers are also looking down on the image of Christ, positioned above. His head bowed, we are unable to see his face at all. Instead of the usual attributes we might see in paintings of the crucifix from art history- thorny crown embedded into the forehead, painful-looking nails pinning down bloody hands, and an open gash at the lifeless Jesus’ side- Dali’s Christ bears no injury. His body is perfect and, as Dali stated, ‘as beautiful as the God that He is’.

Later explaining the painting, Dali recalled that he was so impressed by a drawing of the crucifixion made by the sixteenth-century Carmelite Friar Saint John of the Cross, that it inspired a dream. Dali saw Christ in a similar position to the drawing by Saint John, pictured from above. Christ appeared on a crucifix hovering above the landscape of Port Lligat, the small Spanish seaside village to which the artist and his wife Gala had recently returned after spending eight years in the USA. A voice told the artist, ‘Dali, you must paint this Christ,’ and he started painting 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' the next day. This Christ was to feature blood and wounds, but they would be painted as red carnations and white jasmine flowers. Near completion, however, Dali had another dream, in which he saw the crucified Christ without any of the traditional attributes, appearing as he can be seen in the painting today.

Christ was modelled by Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders (1919–2001). A body double in more than 100 movies, including for Hollywood actors such as Gene Kelly, Saunders performed and taught at Muscle Beach. He didn’t know who Dali was at the time, but agreed to pose for $35 a day, suspended from the ceiling.

The figures in the fishing boats are based on two existing artworks, by Louis Le Nain (Peasants before their House, c.1641, (Legion of Honor Museum, California)), and Diego Velázquez, (Study for the Surrender at Breda, c.1634-5 (National Library, Madrid)). Dali later stated that the painting took around five months to complete.

'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' is often referred to as Dali’s most significant painting from his later career. It is so important because it made manifest the artist’s thinking around science and religion. Dali sought to explain Catholicism through advancements in science, specifically atomic power. He called this ‘Nuclear Mysticism’ and wrote his ‘Mystical Manifesto’ around the time he made the painting, in which he used 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' to illustrate his theories. Dali believed that Christ represented the nucleus of the atom. In a sketch for the painting (see Glasgow Museums object PR.1980.18), a triangle represents the body of Christ, with a circle in the place where his head would be. Dali wrote under the drawing: ”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.”

The painting’s purchase caused controversy. Director of Glasgow Museums Dr Tom Honeyman (1891–1975) was instrumental in its acquisition after seeing it exhibited in London, December 1951. Honeyman and his art committee faced a major public backlash including a protest and petition, even though the price had been negotiated down from £12,000 to £8,200 and included copyright. Furthermore, it was paid for using funds from the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' was more

Credit Line/Donor

Purchased, 1952

ID Number



In storage

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