The strange title of the painting refers to Dali's principle inspiration for it.
His inspiration was a drawing made by the Spanish Carmelite friar who was canonised as St John of The Cross (1542–1591). The saint said he completed the drawing after he had a vision of the Crucifixion as from above, looking down.
The drawing intrigued Dali when he saw it preserved in the Convent at Avila.
Dali said he had two dreams when he was planning and then painting his picture. In the first, he said he saw Christ on the Cross above the landscape of Port Lligat.
Port Lligat is on the coast of Catalonia in Northern Spain. This is where Dali was living, and he incorporated the local landscape into his work.
The second dream came towards the completion of the painting. Dali said it caused him to change his mind about including all the details traditionally shown in pictures of the Crucifixion. These are the often-depicted nails through Christ’s hands and the Crown of Thorns.
Instead, Dali decided to concentrate on what he described as the, ‘Metaphysical beauty of Christ-God’, and to make Christ, ‘As beautiful as the God that he is’.
Dali proceeded to paint the Crucifixion set above the rocky harbour of his home village of Port Lligat in Spain.
He copied the enigmatic boats and figures from pictures by Velazquez and Le Nain.