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Discover the story behind Salvador Dali’s Jesus painting

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For the first time in history, the painting of Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross will be on display in Rome, together with the piece that inspired his artwork, a relic of St John of the Cross.

They were brought to the eternal city in initiative to bring religious art closer to Roman locals and tourists from all over the world, ahead of the Jubilee next year.

Fr Alessio Geretti, director of Jubilee art events 2025, said “the idea for this Christ was born after Dali­ visited Avila in late December 1948, when, upon entering the Monastery of the Incarnation, Carmelite nuns showed him the small drawing made by the Carmelite mystic John of the Cross in 1572, after an ecstatic vision he had received from God.”

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Dali’s depiction of Christ is one of the most striking representations of Christ, with Jesus on the cross, his face hidden, looking down. The image shows no signs of suffering. Neither are there the symbols of the Passion: no wounds, no nails, no crown of thorns.

It’s only the figure of the Lord in the middle of a dark sky that opens to the sea, where two fishermen are working. This is what Dali wanted to represent.

If you look closely at the painting, you will notice a small detail. In the background, there are mountains that contrast with the surrounding landscape. And the peaks form a unique profile: Dali’s face.

“There is an obvious mistake because there is a very irregular and uneven mountain formation, which he puts there on the horizon,” said Fr Alessio.

“Really, Dali­ is not there. Actually, it is the profile of the artist who, as if he were lying down looking at Christ, wanted to inscribe himself within the painting to pay his personal homage to the Lord who was revealing himself interiorly to Dali­ at that moment in his life.”

This Dali exhibition was inaugurated on 13 May and will be in Rome until 23 June. It is estimated that more than 300,000 pilgrims will have passed through this space in Rome to visit these images of Christ, both with a Spanish origin.

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