Death pursued Antoni always. Two of his brothers died before his birth, and then he continued to bury his other relatives all his life. At 60 years old, he was left alone. Moreover, after he was born, no one believed he would survive. But he did. In childhood, he heard a doctor tell his mother that Antoni would not live long. Again?! The future genius architect Antoni Gaudi did not understand that he had already started to pay dues for the credit of talent granted by the Supreme.
The boy survived, but he had always been plagued by various diseases. He had suffered from rheumatism for so long that he was not able to attend school. However, Antoni kept living and expressing a keen interest in design. When finally the sickness stepped back, he and his friends spent a lot of time exploring the ruins of Poblet Monastery near Tarragona, making ambitious plans of reconstructions. Moreover, those plans were fixed on paper, not only in words. Gaudi investigated the ruins in order to understand the way this building had been constructed, and was making numerous calculations.
Oh yes, he was keen on mathematics and geometry, but as for the liberal arts—they were boring. Well, it stands to reason: he was intended to become a great architect, not a writer. However, it did not prevent him from writing a wonderful review article about an applied arts exhibition for the Barcelona newspaper La Renaixença.
Then came the period of his studying in the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture, and the genius of that young man became evident. Introducing him to the examination board his professor said, “Gentlemen, you see either a genius, or a madman.” For Antoni, his own genius was becoming an axiom as well. Very seldom he agreed with somebody’s opinion. He never copied anyone, and acted only in conformity with his understanding. Could it be otherwise? Well, it could—if you’re a mediocrity and the idea of the Sagrada Familia creation in such an unusual execution would never come to your mind.
He was abroad only twice—in Carcassonne and Toulouse, both in France—and was anything but pleased. He never left Spain again. Why? “What for? People should come to us, to Catalonia, and enjoy,” he answered.
It was the time when Antoni was reputed as a dandy. He wore expensive silk top hats and white gloves; in general, he dressed and behaved just as a young man in search of a lady should dress and behave. Yes, there were women in his life, but only two, and both of them announced at the most crucial point that they were already engaged to someone else. Antoni failed to live a life like that of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin: indulging in carelessness, oeuvre, and feminine attention. He had to pay a much higher price for the credit of his genius. In order to make ends meet he had to take any orders.
One day he was engaged in the decoration of a glove-shop window. He created a whole little world, a street scene: the gloves met each other, took a walk, had a rest, talked, and even flirted. Fully engulfed in his work, Antoni had not noticed that his destiny spent half an hour standing behind him and watching the creative process. Then the destiny came up to the owner of the shop and asked him to introduce him to this young man. This time, the destiny stepped forward as the richest citizen of Barcelona Eusebi Güell. Yes, the very same Güell, whose park is well known to any tourist going to Barcelona, although Güell himself is usually hardly known by anyone.
“I’ve been watching you work for quite a long time already.”
“Is it so strange?”
”No, but I see the style of a master. Here is my visiting card. Please come for dinner tonight.”
And that’s it! A flip of a switch, a turn of the steering wheel, and a course is changed sharply.
According to his contemporaries, Eusebi Güell was a man of a pure taste, who was able to choose and get the very best. As well as that, he had money, a lot of money. Such a great combination occurs very infrequently in the history of mankind: Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, Savva Morozov, Lorenzo de’Medici, Ludovico Sforza… Antoni Gaudi was lucky–the unlimited genius met unlimited funding. What more could an artist wish for?!
It was said that while working under Güell’s orders, Antoni spent so much money that the bookkeeper was endlessly complaining about the enormous bills. Once, señor Güell glanced at the next monstrous bill and said, “Is that all? Antoni may spend as much as he considers necessary.” Nobody ever again bothered Gaudi with financial questions.
But what was the price? Oh, it was high. Failing to build a family life, Gaudi broke down and abandoned all attempts to find domestic bliss. He immersed himself in his work. Thank God, there was plenty of it. Very often, he was constructing several buildings at once, and during the building of the house El Capricho (Comillals, Cantabria) he managed to shuttle between Cantabria and Barcelona in order to give directions in both places.
Being rather skeptical towards religion early in life, he became extremely devout later in life. Well, it’s rather typical for people who have not managed to satisfy one of the most important human needs. Gaudi stopped looking after himself, his clothes, and home. He even spent the last years of his life living and working in a tiny room under Sagrada Familia.
Probably that’s the reason why none of his mind-blowing buildings could be in any way associated with the expression, “flight of a soul.” Look at the Milano cathedral! This is the flight of a soul: white clothes, white lacy wings–an angel or maybe God himself striving upwards, to the sky. Now look closely at Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi. Notice the details. Everything is flowing down. Snakes, snails, and frogs are creeping down–the creatures that have never been associated with something sublime, but only with hell.
But nevertheless—please, forgive my inconsistency—altogether Sagrada is unbelievably beautiful and one-of-a-kind.
Take Casa Batlló. At first sight it reminds one of a sea creature overgrown with shells, but then gradually you realize that the house is “built of bones” resembling human ones. There is such an oppressive atmosphere inside. Probably the reason is the crush of tourists, but you feel uncomfortable in the house. The same impression is produced by Casa Milà: everything is unusual, there is no one straight line, but the house oppresses.
You can buy the tickets to Casa Batlló online.
So, Antoni Gaudi kept building his futuristic houses, regularly paying his dues into the celestial chancellery. He was aging rapidly, looking like an adult man at twenty-five, and reminding one of an old man at forty. He made his last payment at the age of 73. On the seventh of June, 1926, Antoni Gaudi came out of his house and was hit by a tram.
Nobody hurried to provide first aid to a shabby oldster, who had only a few nuts in his pockets, but he was transported to the hospital for paupers. Nobody there strove to provide the appropriate treatment either, until the chaplain of Sagrada Familia recognized the great architect, the national treasure of Catalonia and Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi himself. But it was too late. The debt had been paid off. Antoni Gaudi departed this life, having left to Barcelona such an estate that had brought to it the world’s glory: Crypt in the Colonia Güell, Casa Vicens, Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, El Capricho (Comillas, Cantabria), Casa Batlló, Casa Milà… There are 18 buildings altogether and not one outside of Spain.
Take home message: always wear expensive and beautiful clothes—it will not only bring you pleasure, but could save your life.