The Ascension of Christ

In John 16, we read of Christ’s bodily return to his Father. He tells his disciples, “Now I am going to the one who sent me.” This is called The Ascension of Christ and has been a popular subject matter of the Old Master’s painters, such as Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, whom Salvador Dali, the painter we are highlighting today, highly admired.

Dali said that his inspiration for this painting came from a “cosmic dream” he had in 1950, some eight years before the painting was completed. In the dream, which was in vivid color, he saw the nucleus of an atom, which is shown in the background of the painting. Dali later said, “This nucleus is the true representation of the unifying spirit of Christ within all of us.”

The feet of Christ point out toward the viewer, drawing the eye inwards along his body to the center of the atom behind him. The atom has the same interior structure as the head of a sunflower. As with most of Dali’s paintings, Christ’s face is not visible. Dali didn’t feel worthy of painting his face. Above the Christ is Gala, Dali’s wife, whom he adored and often used to model the Virgin Mary. Notice her eyes are wet with tears. Her chin rests on the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove. The Holy Spirit has its own sphere, heaven, which is where Christ is headed. Outside the sphere are violent red clouds and explosions representing the evil Christ faced and defeated in the world. This painting was created almost ten years after the atomic explosions of 1945 which had a deep impact on Dali and influenced many of his paintings.

The figure of Christ, from his feet in the foreground to his outstretched arms, forms a perfect triangle, the Trinity. In this one painting, Dali brings together three central themes of Christianity:

The Crucifixion: Christ’s pose points to the cross. His hands are almost claw-like, reflecting the great pain he endured. He is clothed in a loin cloth, traditionally the attire of his time on the cross. His feet are aligned together as they would have been on the cross.

The Resurrection: Even though Christ’s pose is that of the cross, his body is free of the marks of the crucifixion. His arms show no scars, his hands are not pierced, no spear mark in his side. Jesus’ triumph over death is shown as he moves upward.

The Ascension. As we have explored above, Jesus is going back to his Father, after completing his mission on earth.

Being Human connection: I love the movement of this composition. Christ is on the move! May we meditate on the truth that his ascension sealed the relationship of God to humanity; he sealed the covenant between heaven and earth. Despite the darkness that surrounds us, we know that Christ has completed the mission and in him, we are saved. Praise the Lord!

Featured art: Salvador Dali, The Ascension of Christ, 1958