(1852 – 1926)
Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (Riudoms or Reus, 25 June 1852 – Barcelona, 10 June 1926) was a Spanish Catalan architect and the best known representative of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s works are marked by a highly individual style and the vast majority of them are situated in the Catalan capital of Barcelona, including his magnum opus, the Sagrada Família.
Much of Gaudí’s work was marked by the four passions of his life: architecture, nature, religion and his love for Catalonia. Gaudí meticulously studied every detail of his creations, integrating into his architecture a series of crafts, in which he himself was skilled, such as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging and carpentry. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of the materials, such as his famous trencadís, made of waste ceramic pieces.
After a few years under the influence of neo-Gothic art, and certain oriental tendencies, Antoni Gaudí became part of the Catalan Modernista movement which was then at its peak, towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Gaudí’s work, however, transcended mainstream Modernisme, culminating in an organic style that was inspired by nature without losing the influence of the experiences gained earlier in his career. Rarely did Gaudí draw detailed plans of his works and instead preferred to create them as three-dimensional scale models, moulding all details as he was conceiving them in his mind.
Gaudí’s work has widespread international appeal, and there are innumerable studies devoted to his way of understanding architecture. Today he is admired by both professionals and the general public: his masterpiece, the Sagrada Família, is one of the most visited monuments in Spain. Between 1984 and 2005 seven of his works were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. He awakened to his Roman Catholic faith during his life and many religious images can be seen in his works, a fact which has led to his being nicknamed “God’s Architect” and calls for him to bebeatified.
Gaudí’s first projects were the lampposts he designed for the Plaça Reial in Barcelona, the unfinished Girossi newsstands and the Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense (Workers’ Cooperative of Mataró). He became well known through his first important commission, the Casa Vicens, and subsequently received increasingly more significant requests. At the Paris World Fair in 1878 Gaudí displayed a showcase he had produced for the glove manufacturer Comella. Its modernista design, which was at the same time functional and aesthetic, impressed the Catalan industrialist Eusebi Güell, who later on contacted the architect to request him to carry out various projects he had in mind. This was the starting point of a long friendship and a patronage which bore fruit with some of the most distinguished of Gaudí’s works: the Güell wine cellars, the Güell pavilions, the Palau Güell (Güell palace), the Parc Güell (Güell park) and the crypt of the church of the Colònia Güell. He also became a friend of the marquis of Comillas, the father-in-law of count Güell, for whom he designed “El Capricho” in Comillas.
In 1883 Gaudí accepted responsibility for the recently-initiated works of the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, more commonly referred to in English as the Sagrada Família). Antoni Gaudí changed the original project completely, making this his world famous and much-admired masterpiece. From 1915 until his death he devoted himself entirely to this project. Given the number of commissions he began receiving, he had to rely on a professional team to be able to work on various projects simultaneously. His team consisted of professionals from all fields of construction. Several of the architects who worked under him made their own name in the field later on, such as Josep Maria Jujol, Joan Rubió, Cèsar Martinell, Francesc Folguera and Josep Francesc Ràfols. In 1885, Gaudí moved to rural Sant Feliu de Codines to escape thecholera epidemic that was ravaging Barcelona. He lived in Francesc Ullar’s house, for whom he designed a dinner table as a sign of his gratitude
During the Paris exposition in May 1910, Antoni Gaudí spent a holiday in Vic, where he designed two lampposts made of basalt and wrought iron for the Plaça Major of Vic, for Jaume Balmes’s centenary. The following year he was obliged to spend some time in Puigcerdà due to tuberculosis; during this time he conceived the idea for the façade of the Passion of the Sagrada Família. Due to his state of health, on 9 June he made his will at the office of the notary Ramon Cantó i Figueres; but luckily he recovered completely.
The decade from 1910 was a hard one for Antoni Gaudí as it was full of tragedy: the deaths of his niece Rosa in 1912, and his main collaborator Francesc Berenguer in 1914; a severe economic crisis paralysed work on the Sagrada Família in 1915; in 1916 his friend Josep Torras i Bages, bishop of Vic, died; in 1917 the works at the Colonia Güell were interrupted; in 1918 his friend and patron Eusebi Güell died. Perhaps because of all these tragedies he devoted himself entirely the Sagrada Família from 1915, taking refuge in his work. Gaudí confessed to his collaborators:
”My good friends are dead; I have no family and no clients, no fortune nor anything. Now I can dedicate myself entirely to the Church.”
Antoni Gaudí dedicated the last years of his life entirely to the “Cathedral of the poor”, as it was commonly known, for which he even took alms in order to continue the works. Apart from his dedication to this cause, he participated in few other activities, the majority of which were related to religion: in 1916 he participated in a course about Gregorian chant at the Palau de la Música Catalana taught by the Benedictine monk Gregori M. Sunyol.