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Antoni Gaudi y Cornet

Updated on February 4, 2015

Gaudí by Insurrecta on YouTube

Gaudí, the Spiritual Architect of Barcelona

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet infused his soul onto the landscape and the psyche of Barcelona. His works combine mathematical genius, creativity, religion and humanism.

He was born on June 24, 1852 in or near the town of Reus in an area of Catalonia called Campo de Tarragona. His family came from a long line of coppersmiths. Gaudí didn't have the family life that is so highly valued in Spain. Gaudí's mother died when he was young. His brother and married sister died young. Gaudí took care of his father and orphaned niece, both of whom lived with him in Barcelona.

Gaudí studied at the then new School of Architecture in Barcelona. It took him eight years to get his degree. Before he graduated, he had worked as an apprentice with various builders. He collaborated with Eduard Fonserè, with the Parc de la Ciutadella, in 1872. Gaudí worked on the cascade and various other details.

The architect never married, but often lectured his young assistants on the virtues of married life. Some have referred to a balked romance. He was an eccentric man. He followed the Abbott Kneipp regimen because he suffered from reuhmatism, kept a frugal, vegetarian diet, took homeopathic remedies, had various bathing procedures and walked long distances. From 1906 on, he walked 4.5 kilometers daily from the Parque Guell to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Gaudí was a solitary man, but tried not to alienate his companions.

Young Gaudí was politically liberal. He did the early project for the workers' Cooperative of Mataro, but it's unclear whether he did it out of financial need or political sympathy. Gaudí was active in the Catalan movement and eventually became a stalwart of the Conservative Catalan party, the Lliga Regionalista. He never took office himself. On September 11, 1924, the police closed Barcelona's churches to prevent a traditional Catalan celebration from taking place. Gaudí protested and was put in jail. He refused to speak Castilian Spanish. He paid his fine as well as a poor peddler's.

The celebrated French architect, Le Corbusier, said of Gaudí:

  • “What I saw in Barcelona – Gaudí – was the work of such strength, such faith, of an extraordinary technical capacity, manifested during a whole life of genius; of a man who carved the stones before his eyes in well thought out pattern. Gaudí is the ‘builder’ of the turn of the century, a man adept with stone, iron and brick. His glory is seen today in his country. Gaudí was a great artist; only those who move the sensitive hearts of gentle people remain. But they are mistreated in the course of their lives, misunderstood or accused of sin toward the mode of the day. Architecture’s significance is shown when there dominates evidence of lofty intentions that triumph over all the problems in the line of fire (structure, economy, technique, utility). Thanks to interior preparation, architecture is the fruit of character – just that, a manifestation of character.”

Le Corbusier, Gaudí, Editorial RM, Barcelona

Gaudí was an avid reader. Among the books in his library were: Economie politique des Atenens, by A. Bockh, Du probleme de la misère, by L.M. Moreau, and Histoire de Classes ouvieres en Frence, by E. Lavsseur. He read philosophy and was strongly influence by Greek Classics, Goethe, and Shakespeare. He also owned art books, periodicals and religious books.

Religion was very important for him. He had been a handsome dandy in his youth, well liked in social circles. His growing involvment in the church and its liturgy caused a metamorphosis in his life. He was constantly in the service of religious orders.

  • “His growing involvement in religion provoked him to abandon all secular commissions and to dedicate himself entrely to the completion of Barcelona’s great new church – The Exiatory Temple of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia), of which he’d been architect for nearly 30 years.”

Gaudí's chief patron was Eusevi Güel i Bacilagupi (1846-1919). Güel never kept account books with Gaudí, who managed money well. Eusebio Güel's father, Joan Güel y Ferrer (1800-1872), became a textile magnate. Eusevi Güel was active in politics and the Catalán movement and administered various enterprises. The Güel family held numerous aristocratic titles and tried to help the expansion of Barcelona into a modern city. They commisioned Gaudí to build the Parque Güel and the Palacio Güel, among other works. (Known in Spanish as Güell)

Gaudí's work is Gothic - not an imitation of England and France, but a work of the South. There is Spanish influence, especially Moorish. He employed color as the Greeks did, had the maritime influence of the Mediterranean and the Romanticism of the continent.

  • "...He felt pain as few did and was endowed with great clairvoyance about his destiny, his possibilites, his failures…When he realized that happiness in this existence either is impossible, or is very fragile, he dedicated himself to self-sacrifce and submerged himself in his work.” He felt that he wouldn’t be happy on earth, but that his soul would guide him into poetic ecstacy.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, The Pelican History of Art: Architecture in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Gaudí's Barcelona, Spain: Architectural Modernisma Showcase - Narrated by Rick Steves


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