The first English-language biography of the great modern architect.
Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) is often called “mysterious,” “enigmatic,” and “elusive,” right after he’s called “eccentric,” “saintly,” and “mad.” The aura of hushed confusion arises partly from the idiosyncrasies of his style, partly from the mystique of modernist artists, but most prosaically from the dearth of information available on the man. Shortly after his death, Gaudí’s complete personal and professional archives became early casualties of the Spanish Civil War, a loss made particularly glaring by the fact that he seldom left his home city. The known facts—his birth, his childhood apprenticeship in his father’s smithy, his education at the Escola Superior d’Arquitectura in Barcelona, his exposure to Gothic revivalism and socially minded aesthetics, his early success, his intense religious devotion later in life, and the astonishing sequence of buildings that emerged from his studio—all are set forth here with as much empathetic insight and contextual richness as the author’s thorough scholarship, critical passion, and grasp of Catalan sensibility can supply. Unfortunately, the result is only half as valuable as it should be. Struggling to penetrate the myth of Gaudí, van Hensbergen evokes specific people, places, and buildings with quick, confident strokes, but writes in the disjointed, gnomic style of one so immersed in his subject that he has lost all sense of his audience. Despite stretches of coherent discussion, the absence of narrative and expository consistency make the text hard to follow. Thus it plunges into a detailed discussion of the process by which Gaudí, at only 31, took on his life’s work, the directorship of the Cathedral de Sagrada Familia, without mentioning that the project had to be financed entirely by fundraising, a stipulation that would go far to explain the building’s lifelong hold over the architect, whose socialistic sympathies gradually metamorphosed into Catholic piety.
Readers, then, should be reasonably well-acquainted with Gaudí’s career before sampling this substantial but lumpy stew.