The City of Glasgow bought Salvador Dalí’s ‘Christ of St. John of The Cross’ for its Museums and Galleries collection in 1952. A high profile and controversial purchase, the painting has been attacked and seriously damaged on at least two occasions by visitors to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Where did Dalí get the idea for the work and what were the methodologies of his execution of it? Dmitriy Soliterman investigates.
The only rule governing creativity is the act of creation itself. – Frank Herbert
One of the most well known Salvador Dalí paintings, Christ Of Saint John Of The Cross, was first exhibited in December 1951 in London and subsequently acquired by the city of Glasgow the following January[i].
Regarding the source of inspiration and of the concept for this work, Dalí himself cited on multiple occasions, notably in the letter to Scottish Art Review[ii], a drawing attributed to Juan de Yepes y Álvarez a.k.a. Juan de la Cruz (John Of The Cross[iii]), in the Monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila, Spain (figure 1). According to Dalí:
[…] my picture was inspired by the drawing made of the Crucifixion by St. John of the Cross himself. In my opinion, it is a drawing made by this saint after an Ecstasy as it is the only drawing ever made by him. This drawing so impressed me the first time I saw it that later in California, in a dream, I saw the Christ in the same position, but in the landscape of Port Lligat, and I heard voices which told me, ‘Dalí, you must paint this Christ.’ The next day I started the painting.[iv]
Descharnes and Néret go as far as suggest that de la Cruz’s drawing inspired Dalí’s figure of the Christ “compositionally”[v].
The author of the present article posits that de la Cruz’s drawing not only wasn’t the sole source of Dalí inspiration for the famous painting, but possibly not even the original — and not the defining — source of that inspiration. Consider the following.
When Dalí was no older than nine, he was given by his father
[…] the whole collection of Art Govens [sic]; these little monographs which my father had so prematurely given me as a present produced an effect on me that was one of the most decisive in my life. I came to know by heart all those pictures of the history of art, which have been familiar to me since my earliest childhood, for I would spend entire days contemplating them.”[vi]
It is not known whether all the volumes of Gowans’s Masterpieces series were given to Dalí at once or over the course of several years, as they were being published between 1909 and 1913 (Dalí was born in 1904). Volume 41[vii] of the series (title page shown on figure 2, left) featured works of Uccello, Veneziano, Masaccio and Andrea del Castagno. On page 63 of this volume we find a reproduction (with the lower part cut off to better fit the page) of del Castagno’s fresco Trinity With St. Jerome and Other Saints located at the church of Santissima Annunziata, in Florence (figure 2, right).
Furthermore, not only was Dalí very familiar with the reproduction of the St. Jerome fresco, but he could well have seen the original during his stay in Italy with friends at a rented ‘villa surrounded by cypresses, near Florence’[viii] (or even ‘in Florence’ according to his later published book[ix]) in August 1938[x], as the Santissima Annunziata church is located in the downtown Florence, minutes’ walk from its other important museums and monuments. Given Dalí’s lifelong passion towards art history and museums — he signed up for “History of Art (Antiquity and Middle Ages)” upon his acceptance to the Royal Academy in Madrid and even won a prize for his performance at the end-of-session examination in this discipline[xi], spent every Sunday morning in Prado analyzing ‘composition of various paintings’[xii]; during his first trip to Paris with his mother and sister he spent hours in Louvre and other museums, and they also made a side trip to Brussels for the same purpose[xiii]), and was still able to be Amanda Lear’s personal guide in Prado and Escorial decades later[xiv], — it would be safe to assume that he visited the famous church.
Del Castagno’s work was considered by Vasari outstanding enough to be specifically praised:[xv]
In the church of the Santissima Annunziata in the same city [Florence], he painted frescos on three flat niches in various chapels. […] in the chapel dedicated to Saint Jerome, he depicted this saint gaunt and shaven with a fine sense of design and with enormous care, and above this he painted a Holy Trinity with a foreshortened Cross so well executed that Andrea deserves to be highly praised for it, since he completed the foreshortening with a much better and more modern style than others before him had ever achieved.
Indeed, such dramatically foreshortened images of crucifixion are rare (more foreshortened images of deposition are known[xvi]). Those images of a foreshortened crucifix the author was able to locate (such as Wolf Huber’s Straightening of the Cross (figure 3)or Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter) show the cross just prior to or during its straightening, and the view point is from below, not above.
The likeness of Dalí’s painting to the one by del Castagno becomes especially evident when complete images of the two paintings are placed next to each other (figure 4). The painting, reproduction of which Dalí “knew by heart”, includes a dramatically foreshortened image of Christ on the cross suspended in space. The format of the two paintings, the size of the crucifix as related to the size of the painting, and the placement of the cross in the general composition, are almost identical. The difference is in the angle (del Castagno’s cross is inclined more) and the Christ’s body position (Dalí’s Christ is painted with body sagging and head hanging low).
Both images have Christ’s head slightly to the side (one to viewer’s left, the other to viewer’s right). Del Castagno painted Christ’s head and torso turned because his composition’s geometry included two diagonals established from God the Father’s brow: one through the body of the dove, personification of the Holy Spirit, the cross on the halo above Christ’s head and the Christ’s face axis of symmetry down to the face of the saint on the left, and the other from God the Father, Who is looking at the face of the other saint. Dalí likely chose to have his Christ’s head turned to make the composition less static. The head, incidentally, is shifted to the side of the Port Lligat bay where Dalí’s house is located, and the shadow on the horizontal crossbar indicates that the light also is falling from the viewer’s lower right.
Both crucifix images are floating in space, the horizon on both paintings is low (lower on Dalí’s), the area occupied by the mountains on the background in Castagno’s painting corresponds to the lighted part of the sky in Dalí’s.
If we outline only the main crucifix-related elements of the composition on the two pieces (omitting the two saints and God the Father from del Castagno’s painting but keeping outline of the upper part of St. Jerome’s figure), several other observations can be made (figure 5).
First of all, we may notice how different the two crosses are. The cross on del Castagno’s fresco is a Tau cross, likely because the figure of God the Father would not otherwise have fit into the format of the wall space as intended; and Dalí’s cross is of the traditional shape. The length of the horizontal bar on Dalí’s cross as related to the size of the figure of Christ is slightly larger than that of the horizontal bar of del Castagno’s. It is not possible to estimate how long the vertical bar of del Castagno’s cross is, compared to that of Dalí’s, because the bottom part of the cross and of the Christ’s figure are masked by the two angels, but since the cross on the fresco is inclined towards the viewer at a steeper angle, it at least appears to be shorter. More importantly, del Castagno’s cross has bars much narrower than those of Dalí’s. Dalí, of course, had reasons for making the bars of his cross very wide and the vertical bar also rather long — the reasons which will be discussed when we get to the underlying geometry of the painting — and which were more important than distracting the viewer’s attention from the similarities of the two art pieces.
Secondly, we notice how much higher positioned the Christ’s body appears to be on del Castagno’s painting. The key word here is “appears”. The head of Dalí’s Christ is dropped so low that it is significantly below the shoulder line from the angle we are seeing it. However, if Dalí’s Christ were painted with his head raised, as if still conscious, the heads on both paintings would have been on approximately the same level. Del Castagno most likely was painting from a model lying on his back on the floor, but Dalí’s model was in fact suspended and under a strong gravitational pull — as we will find out later, under a steeper angle in fact than a crucified body would have been. If you picture in your mind the Dalí’s crucifix rotating towards you around an imaginary axis drawn through the bottom of its cross’s horizontal bar, and Dalí’s Christ with head raised, and with the upper body not sagging as much as it does, the bodies on the two paintings will end up at about the same level — once the angle of incline of Dalí’s cross matches that of del Castagno’s.
Finally, let us turn our attention to the outline of the mountains on del Castagno’s fresco (partially covered by the figures of the saints and marked by author approximately where it may have been) and their counterpart — the boundary between the lighted part of the sky and its darkened part on Dalí’s painting (the sky around the lower end of the cross’s vertical bar was painted with a different light, and is drawn with a second dashed line for that reason). It appears that the vertical bar of Dalí’s cross extends to about the same level as that of the mountain on del Castagno’s fresco, and occupies the place taken by the upper part of St. Jerome’s figure. This was not the reason why Dalí had his cross extend to that point, but the composition of del Castagno’s fresco, including the outline of the mountain, may have given Dalí the idea for the underlying geometry of his own canvas which in turn determined the length of the bar.
We are now going to tally up the features of the two images which had likely affected the composition of Dalí’s painting.
Andrea del Castagno’s Trinity With St. Jerome And The Saints:
– an image fitting a rectangle with similar height to width ratio (1.7 del Castagno, 1.77 Dalí)[xvii]
– a dramatically foreshortened crucifix suspended in the air
– crucifix viewed from the front
– bottom of the horizontal bar of the cross dividing the painting in a ratio of approximately 5:1
– horizontal bar occupying most of the painting’s width
– most of the Christ’s figure placed in the upper third of the painting
– Christ’s figure size approximately in the same proportions to the painting height
– a boundary line between “heavenly” and “earthly” planes outlined by features of the background
Juan de la Cruz’s drawing:
– a dramatic sagging of the figure of apparently expired or unconscious Christ, with upper part of shoulders and neck viewed from the top and with the face hidden from view
If we consider all of the above observations, it is clear that the “compositional” influence by Juan de la Cruz’s drawing on Dalí’s painting is limited to the sagged position of the Christ’s body. The de la Cruz’s view angle (see figure 1) is very much off center and the cross’s angle of incline is different as well.
Since so much credit has been given to the influence of and the inspiration by the drawing attributed to de la Cruz, it deserves a closer study.
* * *
The point of view which Dalí chose for the drawing of the crucified Christ attributed to Juan de la Cruz (the angle at which the drawing was made and the position in which it was supposed to be viewed have been apparently debated for centuries, as a very informative article by Oliver and Gelabert shows[xviii]) is unusual for a crucifix but is not unique. In fact, this is a common treatment of the crucifix apparition motif in paintings and drawings depicting stigmatization of St Francis. On these images the crucified Christ is shown according to the conventions observed in Medieval, Renaissance and (in some instances) Baroque art when depicting apparitions. To clearly let the viewer know that the image in question is an apparition, the latter was not only to be depicted surrounded by a halo but also — importantly — in a position that clearly distinguished an apparition from an actual physical appearance, that is in inclined position.
A confusion may result when conventions are not followed, as Panofsky explains[xix], regarding a figure of child Jesus on Rogier van der Weyden’s Three Magi (figure 6),
How do we know that this child is meant to be an apparition? That it is surrounded with a halo of golden rays would not be sufficient proof of this assumption, for similar halos can often be observed in representations of the nativity where the infant Jesus is real. That the child in Rogier’s picture is meant to be an apparition can only be deduced from the additional fact that he hovers in mid-air. But how do we know that he hovers in mid-air? His pose would be no different were he seated on a pillow on the ground […]
The only valid reason for our assumption that the child in the Berlin picture is meant to be an apparition is the fact that he is depicted in space with no visible means of support. But we do use hundreds of presentations in which human beings, animals and inanimate objects seem to hang loose in space in violation of the law of gravity, without thereby pretending to be apparitions.
According to Huizinga, ‘Strict conventions are imposed in matters of the depiction of the main concern of the painting, the depiction of the sacred subject matter. Every church painting has its iconographic code from which no deviation is tolerated.’[xx]
The Author has located in his home library and online[xxi] multiple works of art created in 14th-17th centuries dedicated to the subject of stigmatization (some examples of which are shown on figure 7). On vast majority of them the apparitions of Christ in a crucified position (on the cross or without the cross), and in one instance an apparition of a Holy Cross alone, are depicted haloed and inclined, albeit at various angles — anywhere between several degrees and as much as fifty degrees off vertical. Occasionally a crucifix may be tilted back, away from St. Francis. Some images, for example a manuscript illumination shown (Barnard College Library, Columbia University[xxii]) depict Christ without a cross and with arms dramatically raised (figure 7, top right).
Dalí may have been familiar with some of the stigmatization paintings, including one by Fra Angelico (figure 7, top left), kept in Vatican museum which Dalí likely visited during his trips to Rome: in the fall of 1935;[xxiii] in 1938, when he stayed for two months in a ‘luxurious mansion overlooking the forum’[xxiv]; or in November 1949 when he was in Vatican for an audience with Pope Pius XII[xxv]. One of the illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy on which Dalí worked between 1951 and 1960 (figure 7A, left) may indeed be the proof, as it features a vision of a crucified body of Christ without the cross, inclined about 30 degrees from the vertical, as on the above-mentioned stigmatization scenes. Compare it, for example, with El Greco’s painting in the Escorial monastery, which Dalí also may have seen (figure 7A, right).
One of these apparitions especially stands out when compared with the drawing attributed to Juan de la Cruz, namely the one by a Swiss-born artist Hans Fries (ca.1465- ca.1523), now in Alte Pinakothek in Munich (figure 8, left). Unlike other such depictions, it shows figure of Christ in a partially sagging position, with head somewhat down. When placed next to the Juan de la Cruz’s drawing (figure 8, bottom right), the similarity of both the angle of the incline and the angle of view is striking. The difference is in several degrees in angles of the view and of the cross incline, and the more dramatic sagging of the figure on de la Cruz’s drawing. Interestingly, the bars of the cross are also quite wide (as they often are on crucifixes displayed in medieval churches).
Given such a plethora of images that existed by mid-16th century (and they include illuminations in manuscripts which circulated among the monasteries where copies were made), it may be assumed that Juan de la Cruz could get familiar with at least some of them even without leaving the monastery.
Since what de la Cruz intended to depict was a “vision” or “apparition”, it would have been only natural for him to draw it according to the existing conventions — provided he was familiar with them. And if this was the case, then the intended orientation of the drawing for the viewer is the one shown on figure 8 and the one Dalí also preferred and used — maybe for the same reason.
This extremely sagged posture and hanging head of the figure on the San Juan de la Cruz’s drawing certainly appear unusual, and suggest the drawing shows Christ having expired[xxvi], or unconscious, just prior to expiration. In the artwork treating the subject of stigmatization, at least in overwhelming majority of those pieces seen by the author, the apparition of Christ is depicted looking at and directly “communicating” with St Francis.
The notion that the view angle of the crucified figure is that of a ‘dying person offered a cross to kiss would see it’, as suggested by Descharnes and Néret[xxvii], or by Huyghe, quoted in the article by Oliver and Gelabert[xxviii], is arguable. Not only the point of view is off center, but a crucifix offered for kissing would not be seen from the top unless a priest were to bring a crucifix to the person’s face approaching it from the person’s chest in a manner of a large jet landing on an airstrip. More likely, from a prone person’s point of view the crucifix would be first seen at a certain angle from below changing to a more frontal view as the hand of a priest holding the crucifix approaches the person’s face.
There exist at least two known drawings by Dalí featuring dual images of the crucified Christ – a drawing with Christ’s figures without the cross, dated 1951 (figure 9, bottom left), which is rarely reproduced[xxix]; and the other, dated 1952 (figure 9, center) and given by Dalí to Dr Honeyman who negotiated the purchase of the painting[xxx]. Each drawing contains two images: one with a figure in a more straight position, and the other – with a figure in more sagging, expired or unconscious position. On both drawing the view is not central, and on the Dr Honeyman’s drawing, the view angle is more similar to that on Juan de la Cruz’s drawing. Oliver and Gelabert note that with the Honeyman drawing may have been aiming ‘to justify the position of his Christ as a continuation of the movement on the image attributed to Juan de la Cruz’[xxxi].
When we look at these drawings placed next to the two images that inspired Dalí, and his resulting image, the evolution of his thinking becomes clearer (figure 9).
It is this author’s opinion that what Dalí did was take the general composition of del Castagno’s work, and modify Christ’s body position to be close to that in the Juan de la Cruz’s drawing, but keeping the del Castagno’s viewpoint from the front, unlike that on de la Cruz’s drawing. The specific angle at which the Dalí’s crucifixion is viewed has to do with what gave the title to the present article: a triangle and a circle.
* * *
While it is theoretically possible that Dalí in fact conceived his painting after seeing the drawing of Juan de la Cruz, it is just as likely that he already had some of the painting conceptualized in his head and was simply looking for a source that would add more credibility to (or, using Oliver and Gelabert’s expression quoted above, would justify) his motives behind the undertaking. Obviously the whole story featuring a controversial drawing attributed to a well known mystic, and Dalí’s own dreams would sound more interesting than citing a reproduction of a fresco in Florence that he was familiar with for good part of forty years. Let the author be absolutely clear, he is not questioning Dalí’s account of the effect the Juan de la Cruz’s story produced upon him, or the fact of the dreams.
In any case, a “discovered” drawing and a dream would not have been enough for Dalí, who always liked to intrigue and, using his own term, “cretinize” his audience and work the media.
This is how a much publicized gouache drawing appeared (figure 10). Called a “study” in some publications but in fact being a kind of promotion poster, the drawing contains two images, the one on the left loosely resembling a triangle with an exploding circle in the muddle; and the one on the right – a more regular isosceles triangle with a small black circle close to its lower apex, almost touching the two sides.
The inscriptions under the drawings read in English translation[xxxii]:
“1. In 1950 I had a ‘cosmic dream’ in which I saw in colors an image which in my dream represented the NUCLEUS OF THE ATOM.’ This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense that I considered ‘the unity itself of the Universe’ the CHRIST! S.D” and “2. When, thanks to the instructions of Father Bruno (a Carmelite), I saw the Christ drawn by Saint John of the Cross, I geometrically decided upon a triangle and a circle, which ‘aesthetically’ summed up all my previous experiences”.
Regarding the triangle, Dalí gives us a very specific clue as to how his Christ is positioned as related to the triangle. There was an etching (figure 11, right) created by Dalí and sold as a limited edition, which is based on a mirror image of the study drawing – arm shadow and all (figure 11, left). The triangle is drawn through Christ’s wounds.
However, if we are supposed to assume that the “circle” Dalí shows on the gouache drawing corresponds to Christ’s head, it is somewhat disappointing to find that the head in fact is drawn very much off center, almost touching the triangle on one side but almost at half the circle’s diameter’ distance from the other side (figure 11, right, the circle in red added by the author). And the following quotation from Dalí’s already mentioned letter to Scottish Art Review: ‘The geometrical construction of the canvas, especially the triangle in which Christ is delineated, was arrived at through the laws of Divine Proporzione by Luca Pacioli’ – confuses us even more. The off-center head of Christ hardly could be considered in “divine proportion” to the triangle. And were Christ to be drawn with his head straight up, the circle drawn around his head would be touching the upper side of the triangle, and likely even cross that line.
Moreover, the Pacioli’s book[xxxiii] does not include drawings of a triangle with proportions of the one drawn through Christ’s wounds by Dalí. And the single drawing of a circle inside a triangle[xxxiv] appears to be showing a top view of a sphere inside a pyramid and hence does not apply. So what are the proportions of that triangle, and how are they related to Pacioli’s “divine proportions”?
Before we get to the answer, we need to address other relevant questions — where did the figure of Christ come from, was it drawn into the triangle or the triangle was drawn around the figure?
Regarding where the figure came from, the answer is very simple: from a photograph.
* * *
According to Ian Gibson, ‘in Beverly Hills Jack Warner[xxxv] had introduced Dalí to Russ Saunders, the acrobatic Hollywood stand-in, and arrangements had been made to photograph him tied to a wooden panel in the posture of Saint John of the Cross’s crucified Christ.’[xxxvi]
There exists a web posting describing a conversation[xxxvii] between a writer Terry Walstrom and Saunders in 1980 when Walstrom was working at Billy Hork Galleries in Westwood Village (which is located near Beverly Hills), Los Angeles:
On one of the walls of the gallery hung Salvador Dalí’s lithograph of his painting “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” (1951)
Saunders tugged at my sleeve, pointing at the portrait with pride and a large smile.
I did a double take. “You’re joking?”
“Nah. I answered an ad in the newspaper for male models to pick up extra cash between films. It was for Salvador Dalí. He needed a man of excellent physical proportions he could hang on a cross and experiment with various lighting schemes. He took one look at me and my resume’ and I was hired.”
Naturally, I pumped him for personal information on Dalí — insight you couldn’t ordinarily get from reading a magazine or formal Art journal.
“Let me tell you about Dalí,” he began, “He was a real piece of work. Unique in every way. Dalí was in Hollywood working with Hitchcock on SPELLBOUND in 1945, and designing dream sequences. He told me how uncomfortable it was for him being in Hollywood because he was accustomed to being the center of attention back in Spain, of being ‘far out’ and weird, but he felt commonplace and ordinary in California around movie people!”
Saunders revealed how Dalí had strapped Saunders to a gantry so he could see the effect of the pull of gravity on his body. All sorts of strange ideas were explored. Dalí saw himself as the first artist to paint pictures that could combine science with religious belief and called this Nuclear Mysticism.
“Dalí worked on his sketches for years. He invited me to travel back with him to the Dalí Castle in Spain–by ship–he hated the idea of flying. How could I refuse? Even if I would lose out on Hollywood revenue–the opportunity and the experience were too fascinating for me to refuse.
Dalí lived like an Emperor…always with an entourage!
He was very pleasant as a conversationalist and host. He was surrounded by sensuality, debauchery, and extravagance that put Hollywood self-indulgence to shame. He was great friends with Picasso and his conversations about the atom bomb were out of this world. I had the time of my life. I flew back and forth for parts of 3 years working with Dalí on this project.”[xxxviii]
Although some of the above account appears to have been edited by Walstrom, the statement regarding Saunders modeling for Dalí ‘for parts of three years’ is likely genuine and is interesting because while “this project” had ended in 1951, the three-year time span extends their working relationship possibly to 1953. And in 1954 Dalí finishes his Corpus Hypercubicus which likely was also painted from a photograph. When we look at detail from a published picture of Saunders, reportedly from 1950[xxxix], and at a detail of legs of Christ on Corpus Hypercubicus, it appears to be very likely that they belong to the same person (figure 12). The feet of Christ on the two paintings also appear to have similar anatomy. This adds credibility to the Walstrom’s account of his conversation with Saunders.
Paul Chimera, a Dalí historian, interviewed Saunders personally ‘and he said Dalí was very particular and precise – wanting everything to be just so as he shaped up one of his most universally recognized and revered masterpieces.’[xl] This quote, combined with one from Walstrom’s account, already cited above — ‘All sorts of strange ideas were explored’ — makes us wonder what those ideas were and why precision was so important. According to Chimera, ‘Russell Saunders posed for this work in 1950’. This could have occurred in the early or late 1950. Dalí habitually spent winters in America between late 1940s and 1970s. For the winter of 1949-1950 he arrived in New York ‘at the end of the year’ [xli], and between November 27 1950 and January 1951 there was an exhibition in New York where two versions of Madonna Of Port Lligat were shown[xlii], and for its opening he likely was present.
The Author was not able to find the actual photo of Saunders used by Dalí. There was a colour photograph located — after a long search — on the Internet, that appears to be a photo taken during the session (or sessions) that allegedly took place in a Warner Brothers pavilion[xliii]. It appears to be a JPEG or a colour scan of a photo from an illustrated magazine (figure 13, top).
Looking at the photo and the painting side by side (figure 13, bottom), it appears that the camera, visible on the picture just to the right of center, may have been the one from which the actual photo used in the painting was taken because the body and the head of the model on the photo point more to the viewer’s right than does the the figure on the painting, and the point of view on the painting is higher relative to the model — which it would be because the camera and silhouette of photographer are located above the point from which the alleged session photo was shot, and to the right of that point. Sessions may have taken quite some time. In fact, when asked by Enrique Rubio during an interview published on November 15 1951, in Solidaridad Nacional, Barcelona, ‘How did you get the very difficult perspective of the Christ?’, Dalí replied: ‘I had the model hanging for six days. Not consecutive… of course!’[xliv]
It is hard to tell what the actual angle was at which Saunders was suspended as related to the floor. It appears however that the position of the body was closer to horizontal rather than to a vertical. This means that the sagging of the body thus suspended would be more dramatic than the sagging of a body tied to a vertical cross.What is certain is that there is no triangle — made of strings, or rods, or drawn on transparent plexiglass — on the photo. Possibly it was drawn on a transparent sheet and laid over the viewfinder, or several prints were made as angles were adjusted. Whatever the method, the figure of Christ on the painting does precisely fit a very specific triangle, and the artist was “very particular and precise” for a good reason.
* * *
Dalí had been long fascinated by morphology, proportions, “golden section” ratio Φ, polygons (especially pentagons) and polyhedrons (especially dodecahedrons which are formed of pentagons). He reproduced Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of dodecahedron from Pacioli’s book[xlv], based the composition of his 1955 Last Supper around dodecahedron, and the composition of his 1949 Leda Atomica around a circumscribed pentagon and pentagram[xlvi] (figure 14). He knew personally and owned several books by Matila Ghyka[xlvii] who wrote extensively on proportions, the “golden number” — and on Pacioli.
The study for Leda Atomica (figure 15) features in its right bottom corner a formula from page 17 of Ghyka’s 1946 book “The geometry of art and life” which Ghyka personally mailed to Dalí after publication[xlviii]. The formula is for the calculation of the length of the side of a circumscribed pentagon from the radius of the circle. According to Ian Gibson, Ghyka even assisted Dalí with the study’s underlying geometry.
It is this study that lead author to the triangle.
Pacioli certainly wasn’t concerned with circles inside triangles, but there are multiple cases and drawings in his book dealing with circumscribed pentagon[xlix] (figure 16).
While Pacioli is not concerned with the length of the line segment which starts at point F and forms the perpendicular from BE down to the intersection with the circle (a letter is not assigned to that point of intersection), he gives proportions for the segment AF, and by subtracting the length of AF from the diameter of the circle the length of this segment can be easily derived. The triangle we are interested in is drawn by author of the present article on the Pacioli’s diagram (figure 16, right).
Call it “divine inspiration” if you wish, but once the author superimposed the circle, the horizontal line segment of the pentagram and two added lines (completing the triangle) from the study for Leda Atomica onto the Christ Of St John Of the Cross, the triangle directly fitted into the wounds (figure 17). The circle as such is not relevant to the composition but was necessary to draw the triangle which is.
For the explanation of the connection between a pentagon and the “divine proportion” we shall turn to the opening chapters of Matila Ghyka’s The Geometry Of Art And Life which Dalí was very familiar with.
We find there following references to the “golden section” and some of the scholars and artists who studied and applied this “divine proportion”.
Let us point out at once that “symmetry” as defined by Greek and Roman architects as well as the Gothic Master Builders, and by the architects and painters of the Renaissance, from Leonardo to Palladio, is quite different from our modern term symmetry (identical disposition on either side of an axis or plane “of symmetry”). We cannot do better than to give the definition of Vitruvius:
“Symmetry resides in the correlation by measurement between the various elements of the plan, and between each of these elements and the whole. . . . As in the human body . . . it proceeds from proportion — the proportion which the Greeks called analogia — (it achieves) consonance between every part and the whole. . . . This symmetry is regulated by the modulus, the standard of common measure (belonging to the work considered), which the Greeks called the number.[l]
[…] same themes of proportion which in Art seem to have been used by Greek and Gothic architects, and, paramount amongst them, the ratio or proportion called by Leonardo’s friend Luca Pacioli ” the Divine Proportion,” by Kepler “one of the two Jewels of Geometry,” and commonly known as “The Golden Section,” appears to be the principal “invariant” […] as remarkable by its algebraical and geometrical properties as by this role in Biology and in Aesthetics. There are then such things as “The Mathematics of Life” and ” The Mathematics of Art,” and the two coincide. The present work tries to present in a condensed form what we may call a “Geometry of Art and Life”.[li]
The mental operation* producing ” ratio” is the quantitative comparison between two things or aggregates belonging to the same kind or species. *[footnote] This comparison of which a ratio is the result is a particular case of judgment in general, of the typical operation performed by intelligence.[lii]
“Everything is arranged according to Number” was the condensation of the Pythagorean doctrine. And Plato, who developed Pythagoras’ Aesthetics of Number into the Aesthetics of Proportion, wrote in his Epinomis: “Numbers are the highest degree of knowledge” and: “Number is knowledge itself.” Plato (Timaeus) mentions the concordance between the rhythm of the harmoniously balanced soul and the rhythm of the Universe…[liii]
[…] the continuous proportions characteristic of the series of correlated segments and surfaces are subconsciously suggested to the eye; the same kind of suggestion operates in the simple case of a straight line divided into two segments according to the golden section […] Professor Timerding sums up this subconscious operation and the resulting aesthetic satisfaction in the short sentence: ” …. the reassuring impression given by what remains similar to itself in the diversity of evolution.” [liv] […] this is but a particular case of a very general aesthetic law, the “Principle of Analogy.”[lv]
And this is what is said about the pentagon as related to the “golden section”:
[…] this proportion is intimately associated with the regular pentagon and with the regular star-pentagon or pentagram, so much so that the construction of the pentagon […] discovered by the Pythagoreans and given by Euclid, is directly based on the Golden Section… […] because of this connection between the Golden Series or Φ series, the Fibonacci series, and homothetic growth, and between the Golden Section and the Pentagon, we shall not be surprised to see the preponderance of pentagon of symmetry in living organisms…[lvi]
Imagine what level of precision the placement of the model, the camera and the lights were required for the photograph to fit the triangle so well that it could be directly transferred to the canvas without alteration (excluding possibly a slight adjustment of the feet’ position)! In fact, Dalí may have done just that, as there is the following exchange in an interview by Manuel del Arco:
M.D.A. Is that shadow cast by Jesus’ left arm correct?
S.D. No; stylized; the proportion of the feet is not exact either, they are smaller than they should be, but this makes the figure larger.[lvii]
How would we know that the photographed image was not significantly altered? Very simple. All one would need to do is to… close one eye (left or right – your choice, keep your better eye open if author may suggest) and look at a good-quality, preferably full-page reproduction of Christ Of Saint John Of The Cross with your other eye.
We will let a Russian popularizer and teacher Yakov I. Perelman, who published a number of popular books on science with titles such as Entertaining algebra, Entertaining astronomy etc., in 1930s and 1940s, explain us how this works (remembering of course that this was written almost a century ago):
… the majority of people do not know how in fact the photographs should be viewed.
By its design a photographic camera is a large eye: what is being reproduced on its glass plate depends on the distance between the lens and the photographed objects. The photo camera fixes on the plate a perspective view which our eye (note: one eye!) would have seen when positioned in place of that lens. Hence, since we want to get the same visual impression from a photograph as from the nature itself, we must: 1) look at the photograph with only one eye and 2) hold the photograph at the proper distance from the eye.
It is easy to understand that looking at the picture with both eyes we are inevitably liable to see in front of us a flat picture and not an image having a depth. This necessarily follows from peculiarities of our vision. When we look at a three-dimensional object, on the retina of our eyes two unequal images are resulting: right eye doesn’t see exactly the same as is seen by the left eye. This inequality of images is in essence the main reason for the objects viewed by us as having relief: our conscience morphs the two unequal impressions into one relief image (on that, as is well known, the principle of stereoscope construction is based).[lviii]
The same principle, by the way, works for videos just as well. For the author the effect is especially dramatic when watching nature documentaries with scenes shot in the mountainous regions.
There apparently even existed special devices for looking at photographs with one eye, featuring a lens and a picture holder with adjustable focus distance, because the proper distance between the eye and the image for some photographs may have been too short for people with normal eyesight. Perelman included a drawing of such device in his book (figure 18).
Interestingly, Leonardo da Vinci noticed the effect of a picture assuming relief when looked at with monocular vision, but only posed it as a question, not having the answer to it:
Why will not a picture seen by both eyes produce the effect of relief, as [real] relief does when seen by both eyes; and why should a picture seen with one eye give the same effect of relief as real relief would under the same conditions of light and shade?[lix]
What do we notice when we look at a reproduction of Dalí’s painting with monocular vision? At least as far as author is concerned — the figure of Christ magically becomes relief, assumes three-dimensiality. This would not have been the case if proportions or modeling of the figure were altered because the magic only happens if the image is reproduced exactly from that one point of view — the focus point of the camera lens.
What is also noticeable is that the cross itself, foreshortened as it is and lighted from the front, and gradually getting into deeper shade on its further end — all perfectly painted — does not appear nearly as three-dimensional as the figure of Christ, the only partial illusion that may exist there is due to the body of Christ and the cross being visually and mentally “anchored” to each other, resulting in the image of Christ’s figure “pulling” the image of the cross with it towards the viewer. The reason for the cross not having the same 3-D feel is because the cross was not on the photo from which the figure of Christ was painted. As a matter of fact, it was not on any photo at all.
Oliver and Gelabert quote from a book by Emilio Puignau[lx] as follows:
The following year, on his [Dalí – D.S.] return to Port Lligat in the spring of 1951, the painting began, as detailed in the account of Emilio Puignau, surveyor, contractor of his works and friend of the painter:
Dalí told me: “Look, this year I am going to paint a Christ, but with a dreamlike and surreal vision.” I was surprised, and he added: «That is, as Saint John of the Cross saw it in dreams. It has obsessed me for a long time, but I have it well thought out and I am also prepared for it. Soon I will receive some photos of a young man who I consider to be the perfect model, the ideal character to imitate Christ on the cross. All this, character and photos, was provided by Jack Warner taking advantage of my stay at his Beverly Hills home”.
Continuing the story, Puignau remembers that, three days later:
When I arrived in Port Lligat, I entered his house and went directly to the workshop. Three photos of a man were spread out on the floor.
“young man, in crucified position but foreshortened, head down. They were large, the same size as the fabric. -What do you think? -I wonder. “Gee, they’re magnificent,” I replied, “but the model’s position is very rare.” “It must be so,” he added, “for Saint John of the Cross saw Christ rushing forward.” That was his dream […].
So, we chose the photograph that had to be captured on the canvas. However, what I did not expect was the second part of the conversation […]:
—Emilio, would you do me a favor if you could draw me a cross that would adapt in size and perspective to the figure […].
The model was a young athlete who doubled in risky artist jobs. To take the snapshot, the young man had been fastened to a wooden panel (it looked very good in the photograph) built with tongue-and-groove planks and, therefore, the joints were parallel. Thus, the lines of the joints would give the vanishing point, which was the main difficulty.”
Puignau explains that, after Dalí’s approval, “We spoke after the transfer of the drawing to the canvas and we agreed that the best system was stenciling”
The above account confirms that the photo of the model was blown up to the size of the future painting and directly transferred to the canvas, which is why — perfectly painted by Dalí — the figure of Christ looks so three-dimensional when we use monocular vision to view the painting. And no matter how accurate were the calculations done by Puignau, without modern image-processing computer programs it would not have been possible to correctly construct the image of the the foreshortened cross positioned behind the figure so that both were “seen” from the camera’s original point of view — and their vanishing points hence coincided. Especially because the cross’s vanishing point was to be very specifically tied to the painting’s underlying geometry, as we will see.
Interestingly, the boat and the ramp of the boat landing depicted at the very bottom of the painting, looked at with monocular vision, also appear to jump right at us from the flat surface of the image. The bay and the rocks on the background look relatively flat, likely because they were not painted from a photograph.
By looking with one eye at Corpus Hypercubicus, we can deduce that a photograph was likely used for that painting also — and not only of the Christ model, but another one of Gala as well (the background and the tiled floor, in contrast, appear quite “flat”). And Oliver and Gelabert included in their article a picture of Dalí in studio where a print of a photograph allegedly used for stereoscopic 1978 painting The Christ Of Gala is visible[lxi]. By the way, even though two photographs taken from different points would have been used for a stereoscopic painting, the one-eye trick works perfectly on either photograph. In fact, try looking into a stereoscope with one eye, as Perelman suggests, and the image still would appear three-dimensional[lxii]. When we look with one eye at any of the two paintings for The Christ Of Gala we see that not only the body but the cross as well are raised. Why? Because the body on the photo was photographed laying on what appears to be a thin panel, so the foreshortening of the cross was much easier to reconstruct from that image.
One may of course ask: does using photographs in any way undermine artistic genius or skill? can painting from photographs be considered, in layman’s terms, cheating?
Camera obscura was utilized by artists centuries before photography was invented. It was a useful tool for difficult perspectives, which saved artists countless hours of time. There were other choices. One was making the necessary measurements and building the perspective on paper using laws of geometry, a very tedious process described well by Dürer and other authors. But there is no difference here, it is still a “constructed” image. The other approach would be trying to draw perspective by sight. This would be extremely tiring, especially if multiple days are required, because the point of view for the artist has to be precisely the same all the time. Buildings and landscapes could and were painted this way, but painting small rooms or figures is an entirely different matter, a shift of artist’s head by several centimeters would already change the angles.
Tim Jenison, creator of Tim’s Vermeer 2013 documentary, used an optical device of his own construction and, without having had any formal training in painting with oils, was able to accurately reproduce Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. Now that was cheating. But did Vermeer himself use camera obscura? Get your monocular vision ready! The entire room — furniture, window, floor, viola da gamba on the floor — all come to life. Try that with some other Vermeer paintings. Does this make Vermeer less of an artist? Of course not. And somebody who could not draw or paint anything without the help of camera obscura certainly would not have made a master (which Vermeer did at the age no older than 21 or 22[lxiii]), most likely would not have been elected director of the Delft painters’ guild being just 30 years old, nor invited as an expert to Hague to ascertain authenticity of twelve Italian paintings ten years later[lxiv].
This is what Dali himself had to say on the subject:
Some say, “Why, Picasso never copied a photograph!” All my life I have of course used photography. Years ago I already stated that painting was merely color photography done by hand, made up of hyperfine images the only importance of which was that they were conceived by a human eye and created by a hand. All the great works of art I admire were done from photographs. The inventor of the magnifying-glass was born the same year as Vermeer. This has never been fully appreciated. And I am convinced that Vermeer of Delft used an optical mirror in which the subjects of his paintings were reflected so he could trace them.
[…] Exact copying of nature is no scandal, provided the painter doing this is capable if he wishes to do as well as or even better than the camera. The only scandal would lie in dissembling and pretending to have created a work one has not done.
[…] If you be an artist, copy, keep copying! Something will be left of it. Something more always grows out of it.
[…] No need to deform, contort, or cheat on reality to express one’s art. Neither Praxiteles nor Vermeer cheated in this. Yet they communicated the most sublime and complete of feelings and ideas.
Every time a painter manipulates reality, that is, does something other than to photograph the outside world, it is because he has a very feeble viewpoint on nature. He has a caricatural eye, and wants to give it predominance over beauty. The work is therefore aesthetically less important.
The painter’s hand must be so faithful that it can automatically correct a photograph’s deformations of natural elements. Every painter must have ultra-academic training.[lxv]
Getting back to Juan de la Cruz’s drawing, who, as Oliver and Gelabert conclude[lxvi], likely used as a model for it a crucifix placed on a table — would it be in any way undermining or diminishing his religious experience which his drawing was meant to illustrate? Hardly so, in the author’s opinion. In fact, the point of view from which de la Cruz saw the expired Christ on the cross may suggest him having undergone something akin to an out-of-body experience which is a phenomenon well documented in literature, including medical journals, where viewers observed (often claiming to have been suspended in the air above the scenes) and subsequently recollected events they could not witness (being at a different location or clinically dead), often correctly and in detail describing, for example, as if they have seen it from above, what exactly the emergency doctors were doing to their clinically dead body in the ICU. It has been concluded that de la Cruz could not have seen the big crucifix in the monastery church from the loft at the angle he used on his image, so his inspiration was not a result of a recollection of a prior direct observation.[lxvii]
Having had no training in drawing but feeling the need to preserve the experience and share it, de la Cruz did what anybody else would have done in his place: positioned a crucifix at an angle close to his recollection of the event and drew it as well as he could. Matter of fact, Vicente Carducho on his Death of St Bruno (Prado P005481, ca.1626-1628) painted a crucifix remarkably similar to the one on de La Cruz’s drawing (Fig.18A, left).
If a painting which contains an image an artist seen orenvisioned (painting which would not have existed without this vision) is not to be considered art if it were made from a photograph, what are we then to think of the art of photography?
* * *
Now that we know what the triangle and the circle were about, we can take a closer look at the cross and the overall geometry of the painting (figure 19). The author has to issue a fair warning however: if a reader would like to verify the measurements and proportions discussed below, a complete reproduction of the piece would be required. As the author found out to his great surprise, all the art books in his library reproduced Christ Of Saint John Of the Cross with all four sides trimmed. Luckily complete images of decent quality can be found online.
If we measure the angle between the ends of the foreshortened horizontal bar of the cross and the horizontal (angles BAC and ACB), it comes to exactly 72 degrees. This is the base angle of the “golden triangle”, the one where the ratio of the length of the base to that of the side equals the “golden ratio” Φ (approximately 1.61803). If we extend the two lines until they intersect, we will find that the point of intersection, or the vanishing point, is exactly at the level of the horizon. The bars of the cross, being so wide, guide the eye down to that point, with a stunning effect when standing in front of the actual painting (which author was very lucky to have been able to do). The boat likely was painted under the vanishing point for the same purpose.
If we measure the distance EG between the lower end of the cross and the top of the painting — on the uncut reproduction, mind! — and divide this distance by that between the bottom of the cross and the bottom of the painting (FG), we again get the value of Φ. The format of the painting is not that of the “golden rectangle” (not wide enough as related to height) but its length is nonetheless divided by the cross based on that ratio. As with any line segment divided so that its longer part’s length to that of its shorter part equals Φ, the same is true for the ratio of the entire line segment to its longer a subdivision: EF / EG = Φ.
The large size of the cross is also explained by the intended ratio of the vertical bar width to the length of the horizontal bar: the ratio of AC to AD (and AD to DC) also appears to equal Φ (accuracy of measurements of course depends on the accuracy of the reproduction, as well as its size).
The reason why, when using monocular view, the cross does not appear as three-dimensional as the figure of Christ, is not because the cross did not fit the angle of the figure but the figure did not fit the angle of the cross. The cross had to be drawn as it was to have the vanishing point on the line of horizon and to fit the “golden triangle” into the painting format in a way Dalí intended.
The right pane of figure 19 shows (out of scale due to line thickness) some of the line segments of the geometry related to each other via “golden section”, in related colors. Both front edges of the cross’s horizontal bar are divided in the same ratio but only one was outlined (in shades of blue) for clarity, as the other edge (green) is shown as related to the longer side of the “golden triangle”. The shorter front edge of the horizontal bar also likewise forms another, shorter, “golden triangle”, shown in grey.
But wait, there is more!
A reader may — rightly — ask the following question: why the top of the cross is not on the canvas? Why did Dalí “cut” it where he did? Manuel del Arco heard this from the Master directly:
M.D.A: And why does is the painting cut at the top of the cross, preventing its upper part from being seen?
S.D. Because I want the idea of infinity which continues.
M.D.A: It seems to me that it would be more impressive if you cut out the Cross in the air.
S.D. I have studied it.
M.D.A: You would know…[lxviii]
There may be another explanation however.
As geometry (and Ghyka’s book) tell us, a triangle drawn between a base of a pentagon and its apex (the opposing vertex) is a “golden triangle”. We already know that Dalí painted his foreshortened cross into a “golden triangle”. If we proceed drawing another pentagon so that its base aligns with the top of the horizontal crossbar, its apex will necessarily end up at the vanishing point of the painting. If we then circumscribe this pentagon (Figure 19A), we will see that the top of the resulting circle touches the top of the painting or possibly passes through the two points limiting the vertical crossbar (the exact position of the circle can only be established if a very accurate large-scale photo of the painting were available). This could have been the real reason why Dalí “cut off” the top of the cross on the painting exactly the way he did. It may have been important for him to fit the entire geometry of the painting above the horizon line and vanishing point into that circle — circles being prominently featured in numerous examples of geometry analysis in Ghyka’s book. Indeed, the circle is used in the Leda Atomica geometry for which we do have a surviving drawing.
* * *
The effect on the viewer standing in front of this painting that is produced on subconscious level by the multiple relationships of segments and by the shapes (the “golden triangles” in this case) has to do with the special connection of “the number” as ancient Greeks called it, to the life forms and plants, and many other parts of our world and universe as a whole. Ghyka describes an experiment conducted […] by Fechner (in 1876) for the “golden rectangle,” for which the ratio between the longer and the shorter side is Φ = 1.618 ….. . In a sort of ” Gallup Poll’ asking a great number of participants to choose the most (aesthetically) pleasant rectangle, this golden rectangle or Φ rectangle obtained the great majority of votes.[lxix]
A fair question would be: had Dalí “sinned” against the rules of perspective by combining a foreshortened image painted from a photograph with a foreshortened image of a cross drawn into a “golden triangle” which essentially dictated where the painting’s vanishing point had to be? Let us turn once again to Erwin Panofsky:
[…] the relative imperfection, indeed even the total absence, of a perspectival construction has nothing to do with artistic value (just as, conversely, the strict observance of perspectival laws need in no wise encroach upon artistic “freedom”). But if perspective is not a factor of value, it is surely a factor of style. Indeed, it may even be characterized as (to extend Ernst Cassirer’s felicitous term to the history of art) one of those “symbolic forms” in which “spiritual meaning is attached to a concrete, material sign and intrinsically given to this sign.” This is why it is essential to ask of artistic periods and regions not only whether they have perspective, but also which perspective they have.[lxx]
Perspective subjects the artistic phenomenon to stable and even mathematically exact rules, but on the other hand, makes that phenomenon contingent upon human beings, indeed upon the individual: for these rules refer to the psychological and physical conditions of the visual impression, and the way they take effect is determined by the freely chosen position of a subjective “point of view”. Thus the history of perspective may be understood with equal justice as a triumph of the distancing and objectifying sense of the real, and as a triumph of the distance-denying human struggle for control; it is as much a consolidation and systematization of the external world, as an extension of the domain of the self. Artistic thinking must have found itself constantly confronted with the problem of how to put this ambivalent method to use.[lxxi]
One of the main ideas expressed by Panofsky is that the way perspective was addressed by artists from the times of Antiquity to the contemporary times was determined not only by the current ‘conception of the world’ in general and of space in particular, but by individual artists’ preferred methods of expression. For example, Rogier van der Weyden ‘took little interest to the spatial problems’ and his ‘pictures are not unified by any vanishing point.’[lxxii] Expressionism’s avoidance of perspective[lxxiii] is but one of the more modern examples.
* * *
Did Dalí intend to “hide” from us the geometry and the meaning of his famous work? Rather, he simply intended for us to “find” it. And the key was likely given to us months before the public saw the “door” it opened.
Some of the important clues to Christ Of St. John of the Cross were outlined by Dalí in his Mystical Manifesto published in April 1951. The concept of this painting must have been fully formulated long before the Manifest publication because of the very specific way the photo was taken, suggesting the entire work having been already planned out in 1950 or even 1949.
In the opening paragraph of the Manifesto[lxxiv], where “Dalínian principles” are listed, they include ‘Beauty is always the ultimate spasm of a long and rigorous inquisitorial process’. In the third paragraph we read: ‘[…] electronic photography[lxxv] provisionally is ready to liberate man from this type of activity in order to restore to the human eye anew its full and imperialist realist category.’ Dalí proceeds to refer to several of his latest paintings and finishes the paragraph with: ‘All these subjects, however incredible they seem to you, once you will have seen them you will be able to paint them realistically’. In the fourth paragraph after talking about ‘the decadence of modern painting’ he writes: ‘this is true today, with the unity of the universe having been confirmed, clear as the aesthetic of Luca Pacioli or Vitruvius, or that of Saint John of the Cross — the highest form of poetic revelation of militant Spanish mysticism which Dalí is updating’ [itallics are mine – D.S.]. And several sentences further: ‘And in aesthetics it is up to the mystics and only they to resolve the new “golden sections” of the soul of our time…’.
In the end of the article there are important lines related specifically to Christ of Saint John of the Cross which justifies a longer quotation:
Finished are the denials and emotions, finished the Surrealist malaise and existentialist anxiety. Mysticism is the paroxysm of joy in the ultra-individualist affirmation of all man’s heterogeneous tendencies within the absolute unity of ecstasy. I want my next Christ to be a painting containing more beauty and joy than anything that will have been painted up to the present. I want to paint a Christ that will be the absolute contrary in every respect to the materialist and savagely antimystical Christ of Grünewald!
Absolute monarchy, perfect aesthetic dome of the soul, homogeneity, unity; biological, hereditary, and supreme continuity — all these above, brought up near the dawn of the sky. Below, swarming and supergelatinous anarchy, viscous heterogeneity, ornamental diversity of ignominious soft structures compressed and yielding the last juice of their ultimate forms of reactions. “Anarchic monarchy”, this is the “(almost divine) harmony of opposites” proclaimed by Heraclitus, which only the incorruptible mold of ecstasy will knead one day with new stones from the Escorial.
In the author’s opinion, the quoted lines make it clear that the painting is in fact the manifesto itself, expressed on canvas in shapes and colours. Everything Dalí talks about we have seen, from the rigorous planning to the “above” and “below” planes.
Years later, writing about his mysticism, Dalí reaffirms the special significance of this painting: ‘Works were being born from my brush in the lushest of mystical ecstasies. The Christ Of St. John Of The Cross was its apotheosis.’[lxxvi]
In the Unspeakable Confessions Dalí writes:
[…] I believe that each stage of our lives, each movement of our beings, each thought partakes of the totality of the universe and its correspondence. Each wave has a corresponding star, blade of grass, breath of wind. Our freedom is a bubble inserted into the great All.[lxxvii]
The “golden ratio” is but one manifestation of this connectedness but for Dalí it is a very important one.
The role that “divine proportion” plays in all aspects of life is not a matter of specific religion, faith, or philosophy. It is there, it just is. All living beings, all that grows — resonate with it. And Dalí’s painting is filled with it, celebrates it, and brings that celebration to us all.
Let us once again look at the painting’s geometry in all its glory (figure 20).
Did these lines from Federico Garcia Lorca’s Ode To Salvador Dalí reflect his and Dalí’s private discussions, were they prophetic, or did they influence Dalí’s interests for decades after (the ode was published in 1926)?
Dice el compás de acero su corto verso elástico.
Desconocidas islas desmienten ya la esfera.
Dice la línea recta su vertical esfuerzo
y los sabios cristales cantan sus geometrías.
Compass of steel recites its short elastic verse.
Unknown islands contradict the sphere.
Straight line its courage vertically aims
and crystals wise their geometries sing.[lxxviii]
That we may never know, but we can hear the geometries sing.
Has Dalí used Juan de la Cruz’s drawing and Andrea del Castagno’s fresco to come up with his concept for Christ of St.John Of The Cross? Absolutely. Was the photo of the model taken and used with a very specific geometry in mind? Very likely. Has he made that canvas his own? Just look at it if you want the answer. The author can hear the Master himself passionately exclaim: ‘Yes, yes and yes!’
On that note, the author would like to conclude the article with the following quotation from Dalí, and it truly deserves italicisation:
I have a certain prophetic instinct. In the middle of abstract art, I predicted that we would do figuration again. And now, the new avant-garde are the American hyperrealists, who copy their works literally from photographs, but naturally the things we see are in our soul and not in things. For example, if Velásquez copies a photograph to the best of his ability, he gets a Velásquez. If a fool copies a photo, he gets nonsense. If Dalí faithfully copies a photo, a Dalí comes out.[lxxix]
Months after the first version of this article had been submitted for publication,[lxxx] author became familiar with a paper by Vicent Santamaria de Mingo[lxxxi] on alleged plagiarism and appropriations by Dalí of illustrations published in La Nature magazine. In the opening chapter of the article, which covers the first accusations of plagiarism, de Mingo mentioned publications which as early as in 1952 pointed to several sources Dalí allegedly may have plagiarized for his Christ Of St. John. One of them was del Castagno, but besides him, two other artists were named,[lxxxii] notably a young Catalan artist Josep Maria Baiges y Jansà (who personally accused Dalí in a letter to art critic Luis Monreal) and a French illustrator Auguste Lerroux (this time accusations in Dalí’s address came from Lerroux‘s son-in-law). The Author would like to address the last two here.
We start with the earlier of the two sources, that of Lerroux, whose illustrations for Anatole France’s Les noces corinthiennes were published in 1902. The Author was able to locate a photo of the illustration in question which was unfortunately shot at an angle, and post-processed it to a view reasonably close to frontal (Fig.A, left).
If we position Dalí’s painting next to Lerroux’s illustration and align the images so that Christ’s wrists are approximately on the same horizontal, we immediately notice how similar the size of the unusually wide crossbars is on both works. The main difference between the two crosses, apart from one having been drawn as a tau-cross, is in the angle of incline of the cross – it is more foreshortened on Lerroux illustration than on Dalí’s painting. But the second point that comes to mind is the dramatic difference in perspective treatment of the Christ’s figure. On Lerroux work the torso is but slightly foreshortened while lower body and legs are hardly foreshortened at all.
The Author believes that Lerroux may have drawn his Christ from a vertically placed human model or from a large crucifix (or used a photograph of such a crucifix taken frontally). The foreshortening of the torso is drawn exactly as it would look on a human model standing on the floor with wrists suspended from a vertical wall or board immediately behind the model, and slightly stooping forward and down as far as was comfortable (a human would quickly suffocate if body were allowed to sag as it naturally would due to force of gravity during an actual crucifixion, once the victim has no more strength to support the torso upright); or when a large crucifix is drawn (or photographed) from the frontal point of view. Given a crucifix large enough and distance to the artist’s eye or the camera short enough, there will be some foreshortening of the lower and upper body observable on a drawing or a photo thus made. Lerroux subsequently drew the extremely foreshortened cross behind the body to add drama to the image.
The format of the two works is very different (one is a landscape-format rectangle and the other — a portrait-format rectangle of higher aspect ratio; and the horizon on Dalí’s painting is much lower, with the cross suspended high above horizon, while Lerroux’s cross appears to rise from below the horizon, making the crucifix apparent size truly colossal.
Next we will address the work by Josep Maria Baiges y Jansà painted in 1947. The Author was not able to locate a frontal image of this canvas online. The only photo found in an online article[lxxxiii] was taken from the side at a steep angle, and the painting itself was hung at approximately 12 degrees off the vertical. The Author had to heavily post-process this photo to get to a view somewhat approximating the frontal (Fig. B, left).
Upon the visual comparison of the two paintings, again aligned so that the wrist position is approximately on the same horizontal, the following similarities can be pointed out. Firstly, both crossbars are wide on both canvases. Both vertical crossbars are extended above the horizontal crossbar (on Baiges’s more so). Booth crosses are inclined forward at a similar angle, both are foreshortened. So are both figures. The body of Christ is dramatically sagging on both, and the face is likewise hidden from view. Light falls from below in both paintings, but on Baiges’s it falls from the bottom center, and on Dalí’s — from the viewer’s bottom right. There is a shadow cast by Christ’s body and arms (one arm and part of the shoulder on Dalí’s due to light coming from the right) on the horizontal crossbar of both crosses. The contour of the coastline, somewhat bent, and the dark silhouette of the mountain on Baiges’s work curiously resembles the outline of the lighter part of the sky on Dalí’s. Both paintings are in a vertical rectangle format with Baiges’s canvas having higher height-width ratio than Dalí’s.
The absence of a good frontal view and the somewhat expressionist treatment of the crucifix made analysis of the geometry unnecessary. The same expressionist nature gives Baiges a significant liberty in treatment of perspective.
The many similarities between the two sources described above and between them and Dalí’s and del Castagno’s paintings call for a detailed comparison between all four pieces, as well as with De la Cruz’s drawing, shown next to each other on Figure C.
A comparison matrix approach was used, where the five works are analyzed in the chronological order of their execution, with the relevant similarities highlighted in like colors (Fig. D).
If we then count the similarities between the pieces, going back in time from later to earlier works (Fig. D, bottom), we find that Lerroux had four common points with del Castagno, Baiges – five points with del Castagno and six with Lerroux, and Dalí — five points with del Castagno, two with de la Cruz, six with Lerroux and nine with Baiges.
In theory, Dalí may have borrowed from all four, sometimes bordering on plagiarism. However, as the author’s original article demonstrated, there hardly was any influence on Dali’s work by de la Cruz’s drawing other than sagging of the body and face pointing down and hidden from the view for that reason. There are more similarities with del Castagno’s fresco, and there exists a conclusive proof that Dalí has been very familiar with it since early childhood, as author showed in the original article.
The Author is not familiar with any proof that Dalí may have seen or owned the 1902 Anatole France book edition with illustrations by Lerroux. There are six points of similarity, but there are even more common points between Dalí and Baiges. Baiges is a Catalan, although from Camp, a different part of the province from Emporda where Dalí lived, but it is possible that Dalí, after he for the first time returned to Catalonia from his exile in USA in the end of July 1948[lxxxiv], may have seen Baiges’s work, which has been exhibited in galleries of Barcelona[lxxxv], where Dalí, according to Maset, spent about three weeks and visited again in December of that year, even though the proof may never be found[lxxxvi], but we cannot conclusively say that Dalí borrowed all, some or, indeed, any of those elements from Baiges that are similar between the two works. For example, wide crossbars can be seen on medieval paintings, such as one by Hans Fries, shown on Figure 8 (which also strongly resembles de la Cruz’s drawing as has been already noted), and on crucifixes displayed in many Catholic Churches, or on crucifixes like the one painted by Carducho (fig.18A). More importantly, however, the Gowans’s Masterpieces of Goya[lxxxvii] (number 26 in the series)which, as we already know, Dalí was very familiar with since childhood, included on page 63 a reproduction of Goya’s Christ on the cross (Fig.E, left), from Museo Prado collection, which features unusually wide crossbars, as well as arms raised high above the shoulders. In 1919 15-year-old Dalí published six short articles on famous artists in a student magazine Studium, one of which was on Goya[lxxxviii], and several years later, during his studies in Royal Academy in Madrid, Dalí frequented Museo Prado, especially admiring Velázquez, Bosch and Goya[lxxxix]. And, as additional proof of this painting by Goya being very much on Dalí’s mind, consider his drawing of a crucified Christ[xc] (Fig.E, right), likely from early 1950’s – if converted to its mirror image, it is remarkably close to Goya’s figure. Note that Christ’s head, unlike that on the Prado painting, is drawn looking down.
The next question of course would be whether Baiges himself in turn borrowed from Lerroux, as there are six points of similarity between the two pieces, notably the wide crossbars, the foreshortening of the cross and the sunlight rays fanning out from the bottom of the vertical crossbar. It is highly likely, in this author’s opinion, that Baiges was familiar with Lerroux’s illustration (or with yet another source from which both these artists borrowed). This assumption does not exculpate Dalí if he indeed borrowed from Baiges and subsequently vehemently denied it — which he did — but it does not make Baiges himself look good as he protested Dalí’s alleged plagiarism while he himself very likely plagiarized Lerroux or another source that also influenced Lerroux.
All of the above, in the author’s opinion, does not take away from the article. Its goal was to show the original sources of inspiration for Dalí — not only for the general idea of the composition for Christ Of St. John Of The Cross, but for the geometry of the finished work — and how the artist implemented these ideas, and how the canvas became a painted manifesto, a companion to the written one. Nor does it take away from Dalí’s artistic accomplishment. When we look at Figure C showing all five works together, it is clear that there are only two masterpieces in front of us: the del Castagno’s fresco that started this story and Dalí’s painting that ended it.
[i] Dalí 2004, exhibition catalog, Rizzoili, 2004, p.517
[ii] Salvador Dalí, A letter to Scottish Art Review (Vol. IV no. 1,1952, quoted from http://www.all-art.org/art_20th_century/Dalí-5-3.html, last accessed 06-06-2020
[iii] Author will subsequently use the Spanish version of the name, so it is not confused with the title of Dalí’s painting
[iv] Scottish Art Review
[v] Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret, Dalí, the paintings, Taschen, 2002, p.433
[vi] Salvador Dalí, Secret Life, Dover Publications, 1993, p.70-71
[vii] Scan published at www.archive.org at https://archive.org/details/masterpiecesofpa00lond/page/n13/mode/2up, last accessed June 11, 2020
[viii] Secret life, p.370
[ix] Salvador Dalí and Andre Parinaud, Unspeakable confessions, Kindle loc.2940
[x] Dalí 2004, p.496
[xi] Ian Gibson, The shameful life of Salvador Dalí, Norton, 1998, p.148
[xii] Secret life, p.159
[xiii] Ibid. p.176
[xiv] Amanda Lear, My life with Dalí, Virgin, 1985, p.188
[xv] Giorgio Vasari, The lives of the artists, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.203
[xvi] Such as by Mantegna, Annibale Carracci
[xvii] And if we were to crop del Castagno’s fresco in such a way that his cross’s width is related to fresco’s width the same as that of Dalí’s cross to his painting, the formats of the two pieces could be for all practical purposes considered identical (author’s note).
[xviii] Joan Carles Oliver and Lino Cabezas Gelabert , Image of the crucifixion in Salvador Dalí, Josep Maria Sert and John of the Cross, Locus Amoenus vol.14 2016, p.218, https://revistes.uab.cat/locus/issue/view/v14 last accessed June 12 2020 (translated from Spanish), p.224-226
[xix] Erwin Panofsky, Studies In Iconology, Icon, 1972, p.9-10
[xx] Johan Huizinga, The Autumn Of The Middle Ages, University of Chicago Press, 1996, p.338
[xxi] See, for example, an extensive collection of stigmatization images at https://www.flickr.com/groups/1387143@N24/pool/, last accessed June 15 2020
[xxiii] Ian Gibson, p.407
[xxiv] Ibid., p.436
[xxv] Dalí 2004, p.509
[xxvi] Oliver and Gelabert , p.225
[xxvii] Robert Descharnes, Gilles Néret, “Dalí, the paintings”, Taschen, 2002, p.450
[xxviii] Oliver and Gelabert, p.227
[xxix] Dalí 2004, p.357
[xxx] Gill Davies, Scotland’s favorite painting: Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross, 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/arts/scotlands_favourite_painting_Dalís_christ_of_st_john_of_the_cross.shtml, last accessed June 11 2020
[xxxi] Oliver and Gelabert, p.216
[xxxii] Descharnes, p.333
[xxxiii] Luca Pacioli, La divina proporcíon, 2017 digital edition, https://archive.org/details/pacioliluca.ladivinaproporcionepl2017/page/n15/mode/2up, last accessed June 11 2020
[xxxiv] Ibid. p.478
[xxxv] Then president of Warner Brothers Studios (author’s note)
[xxxvi] Ian Gibson, p.517
[xxxvii] Terry Walstrom, My conversation with a crucified man (possibly a chapter from not yet published book), https://www.jehovahs-witness.com/topic/5129662540808192/my-conversation-crucified-man, last accessed June 11, 2020
[xxxviii] On the webpage Walstrom calls this text “an excerpt from my new book”; author was not able to locate a book with the title provided.
[xxxix] Descharnes, p.318
[xl] Paul Chimera, Dalí’s iconic ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’ coming to America, https://Dalí.com/14415-2/ last accessed June 11 2020
[xli] Dalí 2004, p.509
[xlii] Ibid., p.510-511
[xliii] Unfortunately , the person who posted the photo online never answered author’s email inquiring about the source of the picture, and author will not provide a link to that picture here for that reason.
[xliv] Obra Completa de Salvador Dalí, Destino, Barcelona, 2006, vol.VII, p.219 [referenced subsequently as OC]
[xlv] Salvador Dalí, 50 secrets of magic craftsmanship, Dover Publications, 1992, p.136
[xlvi] Circumscribed pentagram and pentagon are illustrated also in Secrets., p.179
[xlvii] Dalí 2004, p.439
[xlviii] Ibid. p.439
[xlix] Pacioli, e.g. pp 367, 370
[l] Ghyka, p.X
[li] Ghyka, p.XI-XII
[lii] Ibid., p.1
[liii] Ibid., p.5
[liv] Ibid., p.10
[lv] Ibid., p.12
[lvi] Ghyka, p.17-18
[lvii] Manuel del Arco, Dalí Al Desnudo, Barcelona 1952, OC vol.7 p.272-273
[lviii] Yakov Perelman, Entertaining physics, book 1, Moscow, 1949, p. 204-205, translation by author
[lix] The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, vol.1, 29; source: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/4998/pg4998-images.html, last accessed September 25, 2020
[lx] Oliver and Gelabert, p.218
[lxi]Oliver and Gelabert, p.220
[lxii] Stereoscopic painting is not really about creating the 3-D effect per se. The colors used on the two images allow for unique effects of shimmering, sparkling, vibrant 3-D image which comes alive when reconstructed by our brain: this effect an artist can shape and manipulate, and it was precisely what Dalí did with his stereoscopic artwork.
[lxiii] Pascal Bonafoux, Vermeer, Konecky & Konecky, NY 1992, p.5
[lxiv] Ibid., p.9
[lxv] Unspeakable confessions, Kindle location 4032-4597
[lxvi] Oliver and Gelabert, vol.14 2016, p.229
[lxvii] Oliver and Gelabert, vol.14 2016, p.226
[lxviii] Manuel del Arco, Dalí Al Desnudo, Barcelona 1952, OC vol.7 p.273
[lxix] Ghyka, p.9-10
[lxx] Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as symbolic form, Zone Books, NY 2005, p.40-41
[lxxi] Ibid., p.67-68
[lxxii] Panofsky, Perspective, p.61-62
[lxxiii] Ibid., p.71
[lxxiv] All quotes from Mystical Manifesto are per Dalí 2004, p.564
[lxxv] All itallics in the Mystical Manifesto quotes are by author
[lxxvi] Unspeakable confessions, Kindle loc.3453
[lxxvii] Ibid., Kindle loc.2303
[lxxviii] Translation by author
[lxxix] OC vol.7 p.1628-1629
[lxxx] October 15, 2020
[lxxxi] Vincent Santamaria del Mingo, Salvador Dalí between surrealism and nature: Recycling other people’s images as a creation process, Locus Amoenus vol.18, published 12-28-2020, p.153-179, https://revistes.uab.cat/locus/article/download/v18-santamaria/373-pdf-es
[lxxxii] Ibid., p.156
[lxxxiii] Pineda Vaquer, De quan Dalí va plagiar un Riudomenc, https://tarragonadigital.com/opinio/33801/de-quan-dali-va-plagiar-un-riudomenc
Last accessed 01-08-2021
[lxxxiv] Josep Playà Maset, Dalí Esencial, Kindle loc.1251
[lxxxv] De Mingo, p.156
[lxxxvi] Pineda Vaquer, op.cit.
[lxxxvii] https://archive.org/details/masterpiecesofgo00goya/page/n73/mode/2up, last accessed January 14, 2021
[lxxxviii] Josep Playà Maset, Kindle loc.292
[lxxxix] Ibid., Kindle loc.422
[xc] The drawing was found in the Dalí 2004 exhibition catalog, p.357, with no date provided. Author was not able to locate this work online.