Posted by: PaulChimera
It’s that stunning, that iconic, that heart-stopping!
But what can be written about this larger than life religious masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? Grown men literally have wept, upon seeing it for the first time, after developing an intimate knowledge of it through reproductions in books and on living room walls – then finally seeing it in person and nearly fainting from the grandeur that overwhelms the viewer.
Many people are still shocked to learn that so magnificent and classic-looking a painting – every bit as well-painted and powerful as an Old Master canvas – was done by Salvador Dali. “I thought he just painted melting clocks!,” many think.
I saw Dali’s Christ for the first time in person last summer, at the great Dali: The Late Work exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. It was spellbinding. Very large. Superbly painted. Monumental. Transcendent.
For me, however, it simply had to be eclipsed by the painting I’ve been obsessed with virtually all my adult life. And there it was, just feet away from Christ of St. John of the Cross: Dali’s enormous masterwork, Santiago El Grande (discussed in an earlier post here at Interpretations of Dali). In addition, I was disappointed that Dali’s Christ was behind glass. Glass, for me, seriously detracts from the vividness, richness, and “honesty” of an original oil painting of this stature.
Nevertheless, Dali’s Christ was a sight to behold. And it was wonderful to observe gasping fans, transfixed by the opportunity to view a work that hasn’t been seen in the United States in more than half a century.
What many people don’t realize is that Dali was chiefly inspired to portray Jesus in this unconventional manner after admiring a small sketch of the crucified Jesus, made by the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross – a precious little document that has long been preserved in the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain.
Years back, I did a telephone interview with Russell Saunders, the Hollywood stuntman who posed for Dali – his athletic yet not “too athletic” body just right, in Dali’s judgment, to capture the beauty and perfection of Jesus. I can’t recall much of the interview, but remember Mr. Saunders feeling privileged indeed to have been chosen by Dali, whom, he said, kept him amused with various comments he made while working painstakingly at the easel.
As most everyone knows, the painting was cut with a jagged piece of stone by a deranged museum visitor, sometime not long after it was first hung in the Glasgow museum. Some people claimed the picture was sacrilegious. City fathers originally balked at acquiring it, because, they complained, the price tag seemed outrageous and irresponsible at the time.
Today, Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross has been voted Scotland’s favorite painting, and a year or so ago its monetary value was set at, as I recall, some $80 million. I’d put it higher than that. Of course, its aesthetic value is immeasurable. Not to mention its value in making Glasgow a tourist attraction for art lovers the world over.
If Salvador Dali never painted a single soft watch, his Christ of St. John of the Cross would have assured him a comfortable and distinguished seat at the table of great masters of modern art.