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Antoni Gaudi

See also: Art Nouveau


Gaudi y Cornet, Antonio: Catalan architect and designer. He was best known for the unfinished Sagrada Familia and his extraordinary use of shape and colour. Born in Reus, Catalonia, into a family of coppersmiths, he began studying architecture at the University of Barcelona, but attended more philosophy and aesthetics lectures than architecture. He became influenced by Pau Mila i Fontals, who had worked with the Nazarenes in Rome. This attracted him to the revival in crafts taking place at this time, and he came to venerate the honesty of medieval art. Gaudi was also involved with the Spanish Modernisme movement, but remained loyal to his Catalan roots, taking an active part in the Renaixenca of Catalan language and poetry. His investigations into Catalan medieval history made him look at uses of nature as an inspiration not just for decoration, but for forms used in construction. It was at this early stage in his career that he started experimenting with the parabolic arch, which was to become his hallmark. Gaudi's first project was the Casa Vicens, Barcelona (1878). The exterior looks almost Moorish, with stepped prismatic blocks, alternating brick and stone, and polychrome tiles. Inside Gaudi used different light sources to create modulating effects.

Gaudi's patron was Count Guell, a textile manufacturer, who had been interested by the Arts and Crafts movement and wanted to develop Gaudi's interest in this direction. He was to play a decisive role in Gaudi's career, and provide him with several important commissions. The first of these was for the Palau Guell, Barcelona (1885-9), in which the parabolic arch makes its first appearance. In 1898 Gaudi started on the Colonia Guell, Church at Santa Coloma de Cervello, near Barcelona. He planned it with a string model, which represented the structural ribs of the building. He hung weights from the strings, proportional to the loads which they were to bear, in order to ensure that the vaulting structure could be supported without the means of buttresses. Guell, also supported Gaudi in his experiments at Guell Park, Barcelona (1900-14), which was planned as an ideal community, in the Arts and Crafts manner, with houses, gardens and a market. Mosaics made from ceramics, broken plates and glass decorate the park walls and bizarre, brightly coloured beasts inhabit fountains. The covered market has many complex shapes and structures in its pillars, and its roof is a terrace from which there is a spectacular view of the whole city. Guell Park was never finished, but it is now a popular park.

Gaudi did not just work for Guell. In 1905 he started work on the Casa Batlló, Barcelona, where his use of natural forms reach their zenith, to the extent that the roof of the house is shaped with the vertebrae of a dragon's back, and bone shaped columns appear to support the windows. Inside, the use of graduated blue tiles in the stairwell gives the impression of rising up from the sea to the sky. Gaudi has moved in this building from sculptural plasticity to structural plasticity. This is shown again on the same street at the Casa Mila (known as La Pedrera) (1905-10). The building, a block of flats, occupies the corner of a block, but appears almost surreal in the fact that it does not contain a single straight line. The organic form twists around the corner, and balconies undulate away from the surface of the structure. On the roof, all the chimneys twist in different sculptural forms.

As Gaudi grew older he became obsessed with one particular project. In 1883 he was commissioned by the City Council to continue the work already under way on the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. Work continues on this church today. A Neo-Gothic design by Vilar existed, but Gaudi abandoned this, developing what he called 'nature in stone'. He designed an extraordinary building, totally without precedent. He foresaw four interpenetrating square based towers at each end of the nave, tapering up to the height of 107 metres, and terminating in thin, curved features. Three open portals, with an elaborate nativity scene all around them, lead into the body of the church, which has coloured mosaic decoration. The vaulting was to be supported by suitably inclined pillars, and not buttresses. He asserted that the straight line belonged to man, but the curved one to God, and continued to refine his hyperboloids and paraboloids, based on muscles, wings, caves and stars. In his final years, Gaudi gave up all his other work to devote his attention to the Sagrada Familia. He lived in a hut on the site, and became increasingly difficult to work with. It is said that when he died, after having been knocked down by a tram, no one recognized the famous architect, and he was mistaken for a tramp.

Gaudi is one of the few true originals in 20th century architecture and design. Although he was never the nucleus of a school or a movement, his work has been universally admired and continues to astound.

- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History

Further reading on Antoni Gaudi:

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Antoni Gaudi Images

  Park Güell
1900-14 Entrance sign
1900-14 Main entrance pavilion
1900-14 Circular medallion with bronze horned serpent's head
1900-14 Alchemic salamander
1900-14 Solar plafond
1900-14 Bench in Greek Theater
1900-14 Undulating bench, detail of tiles
  Casa Batlló
1905-07 Exterior view of facade
1905-07 Exterior view of front window
1905-07 Interior view of fireplace
1905-07 Interior view of doorway
1905-07 Interior view with ceiling fixture
1905-07 Interior view with window
1905-07 Exterior view of rear
1905-07 Interior view of courtyard
1905-07 Exterior view of chimneys
1905-07 Exterior view of roof with cross
1905-07 Exterior view of roof with dragon back and chimneys
  Casa Milà ("La Pedrera")
1905-10 Exterior view of Casa Milà, known as "La Pedrera" ("the quarry")
1905-10 View of chimneys and stairwell on roof
1905-10 View of chimneys on roof
1905-10 View of roof and interior courtyard
  Temple of La Sagrada Familia
1882-? Exterior view of The Temple of the Sagrada Família
1882-? View of interior columns
1882-? Nativity Facade: Charity Doorway: The Nativity
1882-? Nativity Facade: Faith Doorway
1882-? Nativity Facade: Hope Doorway: Slaughter of the Innocents
1882-? Nativity Facade: The Tree of Life
1882-? Passion Facade
1882-? Passion Facade: The Crucifixion
1882-? Passion Facade: The Denial of Peter
1882-? Passion Facade: Veronica
1882-? Fruit crowning the pinnacles of the side nave
1882-? Side facade of the nave
1882-? Cloister: Violence, the Temptation of Man

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