Gaudi: A Biography

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9780066210650: Gaudi: A Biography

At the time of his death in 1926, Antonio Gaudi was arguably the most famous architect in the world. He had created some of the greatest and most controversial masterpieces of modern architecture, which were as exotic as they were outrageous. For many, Gaudi's unique architecture is Barcelona. But little is known about the shadowy figure behind the swirling, vivid buildings that inspired the surrealists. A fervent Catholic with an unstinting love for Catalonia, his homeland, an innovator who was profoundly orthodox, and a hermit who chose lifelong celibacy, having been rejected by the woman he loved, Gaudi was both brilliant and eccentric. He was very much the product of his time and place, and this masterful biography brings both man and architect powerfully to life against the changing backdrop of Barcelona and Catalonia.

Gijs van Hensbergen leads us through the design and construction of Gaudi's most significant buildings, revealing their innovation and complexity and demonstrating the growing relevance of Gaudi's architecture today. The author captures not only the power and importance of Gaudi's work but the unique spirit of Catalan culture as well.

This supreme artist lived by extravagant gestures and a creativity that bordered on madness. Even his legendary death under a tram as he stepped back to admire his cathedral in Barcelona has the hint of absurdity and poetry. In this first critical biography of one of Spain's most celebrated artists and the twentieth century's greatest architect, Gijs van Hensbergen makes a compelling argument for Gaudi's stature as icon of artistic integrity and genius.

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Review:

The sinuous forms and lavish decorations of Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926) broke the mold in architecture. "His imagination burnt holes through the musty pattern books," writes Gijs van Hensbergen. "His gift was an amazing capacity to imagine a building and then transform it into reality." Gaudí's fantastical creations give Barcelona an appearance unlike any other city in the world. One of the paradoxes that informs his many-layered biography is that this most original of architects was politically conservative and profoundly Catholic, fired by the desire to celebrate the history and culture of his native Catalonia. Hensbergen, author of books on art deco and travel in Spain, devotes a good deal of his book to situating Gaudí's life and thought within the context of Catalonian traditions, particularly the 19th-century Renaixença, which sought to revive the region's language (Catalan) and to affirm its national identity against the Spanish government's desire to absorb it. He surrounds Gaudí, too often depicted as an isolated eccentric, with the friends and patrons who shared his vision, illuminating the architect's impact both within Catalonia and beyond its borders. (Admirers included the surrealists, whose atheism and radicalism were anathema to Gaudí.) Detailed knowledge of Gaudí's leisurely, wickedly expensive working methods and the complex use he made of previous architectural traditions gives us a better understanding of the unique nature of his genius, while Hensbergen's obvious (though not uncritical) affection for his subject as a man helps us appreciate "an extraordinarily creative and religiously charged life." --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Gijs Van Hensbergen lectures in architecture and is the author of Art Deco and of the highly acclaimed travel book A Taste of Castille. He lives in Dorset, England.

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