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Dalí meets St. John of the Cross in Rome

Spanish painter Salvador Dali posing next to his masterpiece Christ of St. John of the Cross

© AFP

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/16/24

A special exhibition in Rome brings together the great Catalan painter Salvador Dalí and the Castilian mystic St. John of the Cross.

A special exhibition in Rome, Il Cristo di Dalí a Roma (“Dalí’s Christ in Rome”), brings together the great Catalan painter Salvador Dalí and the Castilian mystic St. John of the Cross. This gathering might seem unlikely to some, but the saint and the artist have something in common: They both made unique depictions of Christ, John of the Cross’s famously inspiring Dalí’s.

The story begins in Avila, Spain, the birthplace of St. Teresa of Jesus. In 1948, Dalí went to the Monastery of the Incarnation on a pilgrimage, apparently to make a film about St. Teresa. There, he found a small but powerful work: a drawing of Christ on the cross by another Castilian saint, John of the Cross, in the hallowed halls where St. Teresa’s vocation blossomed.

Dalí was deeply affected by this unusual drawing of Christ from an aerial perspective. Art historians and Dalí’s biographers agree when saying the saint’s drawing provoked an important shift in his artwork.

2964Christ of St John of the Cross Dali, Salvador (1904 - 1989, Spanish) Spain, Port Lligat (place of manufacture) summer 1951 oil on canvas Spanish framed: 2385 mm x 1488 mm x 95 mm Painting entitled 'Christ of St John of the Cross', by Salvador Dali, summer 1951
The exhibition’s main piece is Dalí’s famous Christ of Port Lligat (1951)

“Dalí’s Christ in Rome” shows these two works together. The venue chosen for this gathering is also special one: the San Marcello al Corso Church. The church has a wooden crucifix that is said to have helped people during a plague. Indeed, this cross was the center of Pope Francis’ public prayers for an end to the pandemic.

The exhibition’s main piece is Dalí’s famous Christ of Port Lligat (1951). Christ is shown from above, bathed in light and shadow. Dalí’s Christ is calm, almost floating beside the cross, in stark contrast to traditional portrayals of suffering.

Dalí’s source of inspiration was St. John of the Cross’s drawing. This small ink sketch on parchment is believed to be a product of a mystical vision. The drawing is like Dalí’s painting, showing the weight of Christ’s body, and the solid wooden cross holding it.

RÓŻNE PRZEDSTAWIENIA KRZYŻA
This small ink sketch on parchment is believed to be a product of a mystical vision.

“Dalí’s Christ in Rome” is more than just an art exhibition. It is a religious dialogue across centuries. In it, we see two great artists reflect on Christ’s death. Dalí’s reinterpretation of John of the Cross’s image is indeed hopeful: his Christ is bathed in heavenly light, as if announcing the Resurrection.

This exhibition runs until June 23, 2024.

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