When disembarking from the steamship America in Le Havre on March 27, 1953, on his return from New York, Dalí announced to the reporters gathered around him that he was going to paint a picture he himself termed as sensational: an exploding Christ, nuclear and hypercubic. He said that it would be the first picture painted with a classical technique and an academic formula but actually composed of cubic elements. To a reporter who asked him why he wanted to depict Christ exploding, he replied, "I don't know yet. First I have ideas, I explain them later. This picture will be the great metaphysical work of my summer."
It was at the end of spring in 1953 in Port Lligat that Dalí began this work, but it is dated 1954, the year in which it was finished and then exhibited in the month of December at the Carstairs Gallery in New York. The painting may be regarded as one of the most significant of his religious oils in the classical style, along with The Madonna of Port Lligat, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, and The Last Supper, which is in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
"Metaphysical, transcendent cubism" is the way that Dalí defines his picture, of which he says: "It is based entirely on the Treatise on Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, Philip II's architect, builder of the Escorial Palace; it is a treatise inspired by Ars Magna of the Catalonian philosopher and alchemist, Raymond Lulle. The cross is formed by an octahedral hypercube. The number nine is identifiable and becomes especially consubstantial with the body of Christ. The extremely noble figure of Gala is the perfect union of the development of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube. She is depicted in front of the Bay of Port Lligat. The most noble beings were painted by Velazquez and Zurbaran; I only approach nobility while painting Gala, and nobility can only be inspired by the human being."
Crucifixion is a stunning work that successfully combines elements of Dalí's Nuclear Mysticism with his return to his Catholic heritage during this time. In this work, Dalí is giving us a crucifixion in the age of modern science, completing his theme started in Christ of St. John of the Cross.
Of particular note is the stunning athleticism with which the crucified savior is represented. Even the nail holes in the palms and feet are not present, as Salvador shows us his perfect redemption. The cross itself, an eight sided octahedral cube, represents the possible theoretical reflection of a separate 4-dimensional world. Dalí's fascination with mathematics is incorporated with his return to his Catholic faith in later life. This union represents Dalí's assertion that the two seemingly diametrically opposed worlds of faith and science CAN coexist.
Six feet in height, this painting can be considered one of the 18 Masterworks, so named by Mr. Reynolds Morse. Gala Dalí stares up at the crucifixion as a reverent witness, wrapped in gold and white robes, standing on a large chessboard, while the familiar outline of the mountains of Catalonia recede into the distance.