Rainer Zerbst’s book, Antoni Gaudí – The Complete Architectural Works, is just what it says, the complete works. Treated chronologically and in turn, each of the architect’s major projects is reviewed, described and analysed. Copious illustrations allow the reader to appreciate the often fascinating -and usually fantastic – detail that Gaudí used. The text, elaborate, itself florid in its description, conveys not only the colour and the shape of Gaudí’s work, but also its intent and derivation.
Though it concentrates on the buildings, their features, their detail and their innovations, Rainer Zerbst’s book does deal quite adequately with Gaudí’s background and inspiration, though it does not attempt to be a biography. It may come as a surprise to many readers that it was England and English art that provided the young architect with his model. The theories of Ruskin advised a return to direct contact with nature. The Pre-Raphaelites resurrected both the Gothic and colour, and also employed minute detail throughout a work rather than invite total concentration on a single, artificially-lit central subject. And then William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement provided the social and industrial model that aspired to put art at the centre of everyday life. Finally, and not least, it was the English tradition of the ornamental garden that inspired Gaudí’s treatment of broader settings.
All of these influenced the young Gaudí. And at the time he was seen as a something of a radical. Later, when, if anything, the architect’s style became more fluid and less self-conscious, he had already shaved off his beard and cut his hair in order to aspire to membership of the local establishment. In England, the once revolutionary Pre-Raphs had largely done the same.
In presenting Gaudí’s woks chronologically, Rainer Zerbst is able to chart the development of the artist’s style, both personal and professional. The reader can follow the development of a style, see how ideas came to maturity and then were re-used and re-applied. The reader can also clearly understand how Gaudí’s work anticipates both Dalí and Miró, both in its content and its use of colour. Placing minor works together in a final chapter, however, has the feel of afterthought and does detract from the overall experience.
For anyone who has visited Barcelona and has seen some of these buildings close up, this book is a must. It really does fill in the detail that a casual observation would surely miss. And for anyone who has not yet visited the Catalan capital, Rainer Zerbst’s book, Antoni Gaudí, could conceivably provide the stimulus to make that visit at the first available opportunity. Gaudí’s work is something that is thoroughly worth real-life experience. Only in the rather scant treatment of Sagrada Familia is the book rather wanting, but then an adequate description of such a project would be a book in itself. Sagrada Familia, like the man who conceived it, is unique.