Modernism (in Catalonia) and also Art Nouveau (in France, Belgium, Spain and South America), Liberty or Floreal (in Italy), Jugendstil (in Germany and the Nordic countries): an architectural movement born to break with the past and introduce a new aesthetic; appearing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to which Barcelona owes a large part of its sheer quality.
One example of this work is the ‘Casa Batlló’, designed by the undisputed king of Modernism, one Antoni Gaudí who would go on to make this Spanish movement an immutable presence in the form of the Sagrada Familia. The Industrial Revolution, the 1888 Universal Exposition, the economic boom arising from the loss of the last colonies and the return to the Motherland of the rich bourgeoisie from the other side of the pond and the renowned Cerdá Plan (expanding the city into its modern day orthogonal structure) laid the foundations for the rise of the modernist buildings that are so characterise Barcelona.
Inspired by nature, there was an explosion of colour, a decorative exuberance, sinuous wavy lines (a straight line is considered incompatible with the curvature of natural forms), starting out in architecture and encompassing all the applied arts. This would later be used in the decoration – or ‘hyper-decoration’ – of the buildings: sculpture, painting, pottery, glass work and ironwork.
‘Casa Batlló’ is the product of the total creative freedom granted Antoni Gaudí by Josep Batlló, a rich textile merchant, who purchased the building at the outset of the 20th century and sought to have it renovated. The architect broke new ground with both the façade and the structure, creating a work of art that was every bit as functional as it was fantastical in appearance. Spooky balconies, both arched and meandering, coloured panes, sculptures and ‘majolica’ which glimmer in the sunlight combine to make a magical façade which is enhanced by ceramic tiles redolent of a dragon’s scales.
Every detail within and without was designed by Gaudí: pottery, marble, ironwork, stucco and wood growing into doors, handles, bells, boiseries, furniture. All of these are characterised by how they conjure up the flow of the light, water and shapes of the wilderness.
‘Casa Batlló’ is a dream of the sea, calling to mind fantastical beasts and returning us to our childhood, invoking a sense of play that we tend to leave behind once we are adult.
“The angles disappear and the material stands forth in the fullness of its astral roundness: the sun enters through all four sides and seems a picture of an earthly paradise. You
can harness the contrasts and, so, my building will be more luminous than light itself” (Antoni Gaudí).
Photo Elisa Imperi (www.itm.srl)