Christ of St John of the Cross
Dali’s work flows with various forms and shapes, but today I would like to share the importance of one painting: Christ of St John of the Cross. Painted in 1951, it has become a Religious Icon of the Modern Age, dividing options as to whether it is truly inspirational or blasphemous. The descriptions provided in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (where the painting has its home) are so good that I have quoted them verbatim. These descriptions, of course, remain the copyright of Kelvingrove – I include them here as a catalyst to encourage you to visit this affective exhibit and the many other diverse treasures at this wonderful, Architecturally-rich venue.
“Dali’s principal inspiration for his painting was a drawing by the 16th-century Spanish friar and mystic, St John of the Cross, which the saint completed after he had a vision of the Crucifixion. Dali acknowledged the importance of this inspiration in the title he gave his work.
“Dali had two dreams when he was planning and then painting his picture. In the first, he saw Christ on the Cross above the landscape of Port Lligat, on the coast of Catalonia in Northern Spain. This was where Dali was living and he incorporated the local landscape into his work.
“A second dream towards the completion of the painting caused Dali to change his mind about including all the details of the Crucifixion that were traditionally shown, such as the nails through Christ’s hands and the Crown of Thorns. Instead Dali decided to concentrate on what he described as the ‘metaphysical beauty of Christ-God’ and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.”
From the Gallery, “The inscription below the left diagram translates as follows: ‘In 1950 I had a cosmic dream in which I saw in colour this image, which in my dream represents the nucleus of the atom. This nucleus afterwards took on a metaphysical meaning. I consider it to be the very unity of the Universe, Christ*’.”
“The inscription below the right diagram translates as follows: ‘When thanks to Father Bruno (Carmelite), I saw the Christ drawn by St John of the Cross, I worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle which aesthetically summarised all my previous experiments and I drew my Christ in this triangle’.”*
“Relying on his dreams for guidance, Dali aimed to combine nuclear science and religion* in Christ of St John of the Cross, and also used mathematical theories* to try and work out the ideal proportions for his work. Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and sketched an image to try and reflect this. Also, the proportions he chose, so that it would have maximum impact, were influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli. Dali paid particular attention to the triangle formed by Christ’s arms and the Cross.” (*italics mine, text copyright Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.)
Interestingly, Luca Pacioli taught mathematics to Leonardo da Vinci, and published De divina proportione – his work on the mathematics of the Golden Ration as used in Architecture and Art.
Psycho-Geometrics® and Christ of St John of the Cross
The importance of these revelations to the developing science and art of Psycho-Geometrics® can easily and literally be ‘seen’. Here is the iconic reconciliation of opposites to create fullness. There has always been controversy over the image of Christ as the serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole in the wilderness in order to save the Israelites. Why would Jesus associate himself with the traditionally evil symbol of the serpent? The answer may well give us another answer to the greatest challenge to faith: the problem of evil. In the Crucifixion, an innocent man (and God) takes responsibility for all the ills of mankind – willingly, undeservedly, redemptively. This painting actually represents all five shapes from Dr Susan Dellinger’s Psycho-Geometrics® – the Triangle and the Circle that Dali was aware of, but also the Box form of the Cross itself – extrapolated into more Rectilinear forms, and the Squiggle-Serpent of Christ Himself on the Cross. Now, lest this cause offence, let me justify this in Jesus’ own words:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
[…which remains unfinished without the next verse…]
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
[…which then goes on to perhaps the most famous verse in the New Testament…]
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” From John, chapter 3, King James Bible.
I would suggest that Jesus deliberately takes the place of punishment as if he was the cause of evil on the Earth. I wish to cause no offence with this view, but rather to say that, for me, it makes sense of the problem of evil. God judged himself rather than judging others. How redemptive is that? Wonderful. It should be stressed that these are my own views and not necessarily those of Dali, Kelvingrove, or Dr Susan Dellinger!!! I should also assert that I am not suggesting that Squiggles are ‘evil’ (any more than I would suggest a ridiculous idea that snakes are evil) – or that the Squiggles represent Jesus (though that may be a more popular idea to some Squiggles!) I am suggesting that a complete view of the Universe – especially when articulated through artistic expression – must include all five forms.
Psycho-Geometrics and the Gospels + Acts
I have long suggested that Dr Susan Dellinger’s order of the shapes represents the ‘Pentateuch’ of the New Testament. Specifically, Box, Triangle, Circle, Squiggle, Rectangle represent Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. This is for the following reasons:
· Matthew is the most detailed Gospel, framed to confirm the lineage of Jesus for a predominately Jewish target audience. The detail is essential – thus associated with the analytical thinking preferences of Dr Susan’s Box-type.
· Mark is short, to the point, action focused, written primarily for the pragmatic Roman audience – a perfect match for Dr Susan’s Triangle-type.
· Luke is the Gospel most concerned with inclusion (and exclusion) – drawing in the women, gentiles, the sick and the needy. Luke, “The Good Doctor”, is the perfect Circle, with his Gospel mirroring the need to include those on the periphery of society.
· John is a shock when compared with the other Gospels. It does not have the clear boundaries and frames of the Synoptic Gospels. Instead it is esoteric, future focused, visionary – all characteristics of Dr Susan’s Squiggle.
· Finally we have an Early Church trying to ‘shape’ its identity – the mission of the Rectangle – to flex to the needs of the time, culture, and situation.
Now, for the first time, I also perceive the completion of these shapes in Dali’s portrayal of the Crucifixion. Truth is truth – and so we should not be surprised if an inspirational work of art mirrors the same completeness as the full system of Psycho-Geometrics®. Perhaps we are looking at Theo-Geometrics, after all?
The purchase of the painting was fiercely opposed – especially by students of the Glasgow School of Art. Thankfully their lack of vision failed to capture other people’s imagination. More drama was to follow the purchase, however. The painting was attacked and badly damaged by someone who though he, himself, was the Christ, and that the painting did not represent him correctly… an example of a painting being ‘persecuted’ for righteousness sake?
Affected by the Christ
When first exhibited, unusual behaviours were noted around the painting. Crowds of visitors to Dali’s broader exhibition would be noisy and boisterous – after all most of his other paintings can be a bit provocative in a sensual manner. However, when ushered into the presence of this painting, the crowds would quieten immediately, and men would feel compelled to take of their hats in respect.
The validity of each work of art must be proven by the testimony of those ‘touched’ by the Art. I would like to close by quoting once more from the Gallery’s own commentary: “Children seemed to be particularly affected by the picture – one small girl was obviously emotionally impressed but said nothing until half an hour later when she observed, “Mummy, God must have made him do it”.
[Credits: The De divina proportione image is from Wikimedia Commons. All other images are my photographs of the original artworks in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. These images are for educational use only and may not be used commercially without the express permission of the Museum.]