Rainer Zerbst’s book, Antoni Gaudí – The Complete Architectural Works, is exactly what it says, The Complete Works. Treated chronologically and in turn, each of the architect’s major projects is reviewed, described and analyzed. Numerous illustrations allow the reader to appreciate the often fascinating – and generally fantastic – detail used by Gaudí. The elaborate text, itself flowery in its description, conveys not only the color and form of Gaudí’s work, but also its intention and its derivation.
Although it focuses on buildings, their features, details and innovations, Rainer Zerbst’s book deals quite adequately with Gaudí’s background and inspiration, although it does not attempt to be a biography. . It may surprise many readers that it was England and English art that provided the young architect with his model. Ruskin’s theories advised a return to direct contact with nature. The Pre-Raphaelites resurrected both Gothic and color, and also used painstaking detail throughout a work rather than inviting full focus 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 place art at the center of everyday life. Last but not least, it was the English tradition of the ornamental garden that inspired Gaudí’s treatment of larger frames.
All this influenced the young Gaudí. And at the time, he was seen as a radical. Later, when the architect’s style became more fluid and less self-conscious, he had already shaved his beard and cut his hair to aspire to become a member of the local establishment. In England, the once revolutionary pre-Raphs had done much of the same.
By presenting Gaudí’s woks chronologically, Rainer Zerbst is able to trace the evolution of the artist’s style, both personal and professional. The reader can follow the development of a style, see how ideas have matured, then been reused and reapplied. The reader can also clearly understand how Gaudí’s work anticipates both Dalí and Miró, both in content and in its use of color. However, placing minor works in a final chapter feels like an afterthought and detracts from the overall experience.
For anyone who has visited Barcelona and seen some of these buildings up close, this book is a must see. It really fills in the detail that a casual sighting would surely miss. And for anyone who has not yet visited the Catalan capital, Rainer Zerbst’s book Antoni Gaudí could presumably prompt them to make this visit at the earliest available opportunity. Gaudí’s work is something that is really worth experiencing. It is only in the rather rare treatment of the Sagrada Familia that the book is rather missing, but then an adequate description of such a project would be a book in itself. La Sagrada Familia, like the man who designed it, is unique.