Salvador Dali is perhaps best know for his early surrealist works but his late religious subjects have also proved enduringly popular. So as Christ of Saint John of the Cross returns to Glasgow after a show in the USA we take a closer look and this aspect of Dali’s work.
After spending world war two in the USA Dali returned to Europe. He painted mainly in Spain, with a renewed eclecticism of technique and style and his paintings and drawings dealt with history, art history, science and religion. This part of his career has often been seen as a long decline, exacerbated by relentless self-promotion and a fervent return to Roman Catholicism. At the same time Dali had been inspired by the shock of Hiroshima and the dawning of the "atomic age" and his works reflected this with the technical virtuosity and an interest in optical illusions.
Dali’s first example of the crucifixion in the age of modern science began with Christ of St. John of the Cross. An astute balance of showmanship and restraint, this work seems to present a God’s-eye view, eerily evoking years before fact the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. Unlike many depictions of the crucifixion Dali chose not to include the crowns of thorns: Nor are the hands and feet of Jesus nailed to the cross. Dali has been recorded as saying a dream convinced him that to do this would tarnish his portrayal of Jesus Christ. Dali made preparatory studies for this oil painting on which he wrote - "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!
Crucifixion or Corpus Hypercubus Dali’s later depiction is a stunning work that successfully combines elements of Dali's Nuclear Mysticism with his return to his Catholic heritage. The cross itself, an eight sided octahedral cube, represents the possible theoretical reflection of a separate 4-dimensional world. This union represents Dali's assertion that the two seemingly diametrically opposed worlds of faith and science could coexist.
The Sacrament of the Last Supper is another excellent example of Dali's idea of Nuclear Mysticism, in which he has combined ideas of science and religion. As in several other Dali masterworks we are unable to view the face of God here. The elements of the Catholic Eucharist, bread and wine, are present on the table, a direct reference back to Dali's Catalonian heritage. The wondrous landscape of Dali's homeland once again dominates the surrounding background, and the whole scene seems to be taking place inside some surreal and ethereal building.
Sometimes classified as Kitsch by the art establishment it is clear these works are loved but the public with Christ of St. John of the Cross wining a poll to decide Scotland's favourite painting in 2006, and The Sacrament of the Last Supper continuing to draw crowds at National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
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