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Thread: Christ of St John of the Cross - Religious Masterpiece

  1. #1 Christ of St John of the Cross - Religious Masterpiece 
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Fifty years ago the director of the Glasgow Art Gallery spent the museum's entire annual acquisition budget - £8,200 - on just one painting - Salvador Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross. "It was, said everyone with a voice, a 'waste of money'. The press foamed at the mouth in condemnatory headlines. Rate-payers were incensed by the action of the GP turned art expert. Students at Glasgow School of Art petitioned for his sacking, and the eminent Augustus John derided the cost of the acquisition of a work by a living artist as 'wilfully extravagant'." Fifty years later the painting is the most-reproduced religious-themed work of the 20th Century and worth £25 million to £100 million
    From: http://www.artsjournal.com/Artsbeat/ab%2002-05-12.htm

    A more detailed report on the controversy surrounding the decision may be found here:
    http://entertainment.scotsman.com/he...ic.cfm?id=5308

    A reproduction of the picture may be seen here:
    http://dali.urvas.lt/forviewing/pic20.jpg

    I believe the justification for its status as the most-reproduced religious-themed work of the 20th Century is fully justified, on these grounds:

    1)Exquisite technical artistry.
    2)Dramatic (and unique) perspective of the Christ
    3)The suppression of Dali's normal surreal interpretations and their transfiguration into an image that blended the corporeal and spiritual aspects of this God-become-Man
    4)Insertion of the Christ into the real landscape of Dali’s own world, thus establishing a connection between Man of today and the Messiah of two millennia ago.

    Would anyone care to challenge this view?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Ph.D.
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    Would anyone care to challenge this view?
    How slippery of you, Ophiolite. Personally, as a strong work, I prefer Dali's Crucifixion, but merely because I love flatland and the likes. I think it looks confronting to me, it looks unnatural, because I consider Christ's teachings unnatural, and thus it seems like a perversion, and that reminds me to always consider myself and to think about myself.

    I'm not to knowledable on Salvator Dali myself, however. I know only what my heart tells me .

    Mr U


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  4. #3  
    j
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    Are the figures at the base weirdly static, or is it quality of the reproduction I am viewing?

    I don't know that I would agree that surrealism is absent; the spikes, the impossible angles, the strange excessive detailing of the musculature ...

    That the face is not shown, none of the standard images are adopted, gives the sense that this is the true Christ, not an icon ...

    So, as to your four points:
    1)Exquisite technical artistry.
    No; the base of the painting is static and sentimental, and the detailing of the figure seems almost self-indulgent.

    3)The suppression of Dali's normal surreal interpretations and their transfiguration into an image that blended the corporeal and spiritual aspects of this God-become-Man.
    I think the surrealism is more subtle, but hardly supressed, and I find the figure almost agressively corporeal.

    4)Insertion of the Christ into the real landscape of Dali’s own world, thus establishing a connection between Man of today and the Messiah of two millennia ago.
    I find this the most disappointing aspect of the painting.

    However,
    2)Dramatic (and unique) perspective of the Christ
    I agree completely, particularly of the 'perspective' in the technical sense.


    But I think you neglected the real power in this painting; it's all about the light.

    Very intense; very close to create that combination of shadows; white and harsh on the closest surface, but overall a warm gold; the light is the face of God. This is a portrait of at least two of the Trinity.

    Still, a pretty good deal.
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    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by j
    I don't know that I would agree that surrealism is absent.
    Now, look carefully. I said it was supressed: that is different from eliminated.
    Quote Originally Posted by j
    That the face is not shown, none of the standard images are adopted, gives the sense that this is the true Christ, not an icon .
    It is the entire painting that is iconic. The strong sense of reality of the figure, placed in a real landscape, yet within the spiritual context of the crucifixion, is what creates (I would argue) its important symbolic status.
    Quote Originally Posted by j
    But I think you neglected the real power in this painting; it's all about the light..
    I am delighted and amazed that you were able to pick this out from the rather poor reproduction. This is its strongest point.

    The first time I saw the painting was accidental. It was housed at that time in the Kelvin Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. This lies opposite the impressive neo-Gothic edifice that was the first building of the University of Glasgow constructed on this site. The River Kelvin runs between them through a small park. In one corner of the old building was the geology department where I was studying, so it was but a short walk to the Gallery.

    I was unaware of the controversy surrounding the painting, or even that it existed. I barely knew of Dali. (I was after all training to be a geologist, not an art critic.) At that time the painting was located at the top of a flight of stairs, with no particular focus placed on it. It was merely one of scores of paintings on display.

    I was immediately captivated by it and it was the light more than anything else that grabbed my attention. I cannot honestly remember any of the other paintings that are held there, though there are several fine works, but the Dali is vivid in my memory. I often returned to the museum just to spend a few minutes looking at, and always it was the light that drew me in.

    It was only some years after I graduated that I learnt how well regarded the painting now was, and how controversial its acquisition had been.
    So, I really am delighted that even in an on-line reproduction the same quality that called to me three and a half decades ago is evident to others.
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  6. #5  
    j
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    Iconic, maybe ... but to use the term 'icon' surely the image must be more important than the artist. I have never sensed that in any of the reproductions I have seen of Dali's work, and, given his status, it would now be impossible.

    I can see that the power of the painting brings the term to mind, but I find it more an 'anti-icon'.

    But the light ...

    It is alway about the light, at least in oils.

    Strong light against the soft dark backgrounds; Manet and Sargent, especially the portraits and character studies. However, the expression of light simply falls flat unless it is supported by superior draftsmanship. I think surrealism would undercut the importance of the draftsmanship necessary for so strong an expression of light.

    [I do not think the same effects can be achieved with acrylics, and, of course, light is entirely different in water colors.]

    But, from this reproduction, I can not determine if the detailing of the shoulders frames or distracts from the perfect simplicity of the head.

    Oh, that's it; the head, the hair; it is not the standard clumps and strands of blood- and sweat-soaked hair. That, in combination with the absence of the spikes, brings the image beyond what time has made a cliche. Such an inobvious detail.
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  7. #6  
    j
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    Quote Originally Posted by HomoUniversalis
    Personally, as a strong work, I prefer Dali's Crucifixion, ...
    You don't happened to have a link to an good online reproduction handy, do you?

    [There is a lot of variation in the images I am finding]
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  8. #7  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Regretably no. The reproduction I rely upon is the one in my memory - not much use to you.
    I need to see it again. I don't think I've viewed it for three decades. A two hundred mile drive and parking problems would take care of that however.
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    Forum Ph.D.
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    Here is one of the crucifixion I was referring to:

    http://www.scotty.com.au/gallery/dali/crucifixion.jpg

    Mr U
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    It's interesting that in both paintings Dali chooses to have Christ looking away from the viewer: down in one case, up in the other. Is he looking away from humanity, disappointed they have chosen to ignore his message. Or is the downward look despair, the upward one supplication?

    Dali seems to have chosen his familiar native landscape as the backdrop again.

    I wonder at the significance of the crossed feet rather than crossed legs, as seem to be more common in conventional renditions of the crucifixion.

    I think this painting is hung in the Metropolitan in New York. I have not yet had an opportunity to visit it.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    It's interesting that in both paintings Dali chooses to have Christ looking away from the viewer: down in one case, up in the other. Is he looking away from humanity, disappointed they have chosen to ignore his message. Or is the downward look despair, the upward one supplication?
    I interpreted that not as a comment on the relationship between Christ and the viewer, but as a decision to not depict the face, and thereby render God unknowable or, at least, incomprehensible. I don't think I have found quite the right word for what I mean.

    Above the limited understanding of humans?
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  12. #11  
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    Yes, I wondered about that too. To me the significance indeed also invoked the feeling of "Christ looking away" as not wanting to be seen. Perhaps he merely wishes for people to focus on his message, not upon him.

    Which would create an interesting reflection to Dali, who wishes people to focus on his art, to understand him. Perhaps this is Dali's criticism of mankind, focusing too much on the messenger, instead of the words. Nietzsche (I feel like I'm getting banal, lol) places this in an aphorism, where he tells us that often the acceptance of a message depends on the messenger, not the message itself.

    Mr U
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  13. #12  
    j
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    I don't find that a particularly insightful observation [Nietzsche's, not yours]; our mothers started drumming it into us with our first spoonful of strained carrots.

    Your observation I do find interesting; I think it suits the Crucificion better than Christ. In your painting, the face is averted, but in Ophiolite's the face is obscured by the angle of the perspective.

    It is interesting that each of us had a different interpretation of the hidden face.
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  14. #13  
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    First thing that strikes me about this painting is how Christ is hanging from the sky. But, what strikes me about this pose isn't that he's hanging from the sky, but rather perhaps the ground is hanging from him?

    Heh. Let me explain.
    This concept was first introduced to me in The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Roland takes some mescaline and goes to a speaking ring (a stone circle where a demon dwells) for a vision.
    He lays down on the stone slab in the middle of the ring. As the trip begins, he begins to feel that he's hanging from the slab and that the sky is spread out below him.

    Ever since reading that, I've often experienced this shift of perspective when laying back on the ground and staring up at the sky.


    I'm sure that it has nothing to do with Dali's intent though.
    Just my reaction to it.
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