Friday, April 13, 2012

Designer of the Month: Antoni Gaudí

Week 2: the patronage of Eusebi Güell

Antoni Gaudí, Finca Güell Caretaker's Lodge, 1884-87, Barcelona. Courtesy of Gaudí: Designer.

Antoni Gaudí graduated from Barcelona's Escola d'Arquitectura in 1878 and launched directly into a career as an architect. 1878, in particular, would be an important year for Gaudí. It was the year he designed the cast iron and bronze street lamps for the Plaça Reial, his earliest existing works, as well as the year that Gaudí would come into contact with Eusebi Güell, a man who would become his most significant patron.[1] Now, while it's easy to focus on just the designer and skim over the other people who had a hand in his career, the vital nature of patronage for Gaudí simply can not be underestimated. As Lluís Permanyer explains,
Gaudí was fortunate to have lived at a time in which he received the patronage of clients who gave him a great deal of latitude, financially and aesthetically, to produce audacious and often unorthodox work. He caught the attention of prominent members of a bourgeoisie that enjoyed ever-increasing prosperity, self-confident men who wanted to distinguish themselves in every way possible. These successful merchants and industrialists found in architecture not only a form of investment, but also a significant and visible medium through which to convey their identity.[2]
Antoni Gaudí, Finca Güell Gate, 1884-87, Barcelona. Courtesy of Gaudí: Designer.

Although one can clearly see the influence of the many different architectural styles that were fashionable throughout Gaudí's life within his work - Art Nouveau, Gothic Revival and Modernisme, most clearly - it's important to remember that Gaudí's work was, and still is, quite unlike anything else. Güell was especially influential to Gaudí simply because he was so enamored of Gaudí's designs, allowing him the freedom to create commissions that were significant in both their scope and diversity.[3] This included not only work that Gaudí was given because of Güell's patronage, but personal projects as well, such as Finca Güell, Palacio Güell, Park Güell, and Colonia Güell. The first of these commissions, Finca Güell (1884-87), was a large project that included such features as a wall marking the property boundaries, three entrance gates, an arbor and foundation, and modifications to the residences; today, only the main gate, flanked by a caretaker's lodge and coach house with stables are the spectacular remnants of a remarkable estate.[4] While the brick structure of the caretaker's lodge, covered in a beautiful array of ceramic tiles and mosaics, is a striking example of Gaudí's early architectural aesthetic, it's the gate itself that captures most people's imaginations. Composed of cast wrought iron plates, each stamped with the image of a rose, the gate boasts an extraordinary wrought iron dragon as its guard, a reference to the mythological garden of Hesperides.[5]

Antoni Gaudí, Palau Güell Facade, 1885-90, Barcelona. Courtesy of Gaudí: Designer.

Güell was so pleased by the work that Gaudí had done on Finca Güell that he then commissioned the architect to design a new town house for his family. The Palau Güell (1885-90), conceived of as a venue for social gatherings and as a contemporary symbol of the family's status, was designed to compliment and be linked to the Güell's existing house on central Barcelona's famous la Rambla.[6] Although, with its Gothic sensibilities, the palace and its interiors represent a very different style of architecture than what can be seen in Finca Güell, Gaudí's influence in all aspects of the building's design is evident at every turn. As Permanyer explains about the unusual nature of this structure:
In the interior spaces, Gaudí's highly individual approach and rejection of precedent is evident in every detail. The main entrance leads down to the basement, as well as up to the formal rooms of the palace. The stables were located below, reached by a spiral ramp, and the space is surprisingly beautiful. Through the use of humble materials such as brick and tile, Gaudí was able to attain an unwonted expressiveness. The broad, unadorned columns preside with aplomb over this unique complex.[7]
A significant work for both patron and architect, as well as Gaudí's largest commission to date, Palau Güell established Gaudí as a highly visible presence within the city.[8]

[1] Lluís Permanyer, "Introduction: The Man and the City," from Gaudí of Barcelona, ed. Lluís Permanyer, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1996.), 8, 15.

[2] Ibid., 7.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Lluís Permanyer, "The Works: Illustrations and Commentaries," from Gaudí of Barcelona, ed. Lluís Permanyer, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1996.), 34.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] Ibid., 44.

[7] Ibid., 46.

[8] Ibid., 44.

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