"Christ of Saint John of the Cross" depicts Jesus Christ on the cross in a darkened sky floating over a body of water complete with a boat and fishermen. Although it is a depiction of the crucifixion, it is devoid of nails, blood, and a crown of thorns, because, according to Dalí, he was convinced by a dream that these features would mar his depiction of Christ. Also in a dream, the importance of depicting Christ in the extreme angle, evident in the painting, was revealed to him.
The painting is known as the "Christ of Saint John of the Cross," because its design is based on a drawing by the 16th century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross. The composition of Christ is also based on a triangle and circle (the triangle is formed by Christ's arms; the circle is formed by Christ's head). The triangle, since it has three sides, can be seen as a reference to the Trinity, and the circle may be an allusion to Platonic thought. On the bottom of his studies for the painting, Dalí explained its inspiration: "In the first place, in 1950, I had a 'cosmic dream' in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the 'nucleus of the atom.' This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it 'the very unity of the universe,' the Christ!"
The original painting was acquired by Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery for £8,200, a price considered high at the time. The canvas was slashed by a visitor to the museum in 1961, but has since been successfully restored. In 1993, the painting was moved to the city's St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, but returned to Kelvingrove for its reopening in July 2006.