Casa Amatller

The First Brick in the Block Of Discord

Located at Passeig de Gràcia 41 in Barcelona's Eixample District, Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch was completed in 1900 and was the first major building on what later became known as the Manzana de la Discòrdia - the Block of Discord.

Casa Amatller is right next door to Gaudí's Casa Batlló and a few doors away from Domènech i Montaner's Casa Lleó Morera

The fact the three great Modernista architects each had a building so close inevitably drawing comparisons of which is best is the reason for the Manzana de la Discordia's apocryphal name.

The picture shows Casa Amatller on a wintery Barcelona day but when the sun lights up its pale facade and the scaly roof of twinkles in the sunlight, the view really is something to be seen.

The building has been home to the Institut Amatller d'Art Hispànic since the 1940s and houses a library and an important photographic archive.

The first floor has recently been completely refurbished and you now visit the vestibule and main apartment, which is now fully decorated and furnished in turn of the century style.





The origins of the building go back to 1898, when chocolate manufacturer Antoni Amatller decided to transform a rather dull property built on Passeig de Gràcia in 1875 into something much more spectacular.

Amatller commissioned Josep Puig i Cadafalch - the third of Barcelona's famous trio of Modernista architects - to do the job.

Puig i Cadafalch used what has been described as an urban gothic design for the Amatller house with a flat facade and a central interior patio with stairs that gave access to the main apartment, even though there were 20 flats in the building.

However, the Gothic style of the building is a very personal interpretation by Puig i Cadafalch, and the strange thing about the house is that it is extremely ornate but gives an overall impression of simplicity.

The facade is almost Nordic with its ochre and white tones and stepped roof pediment.

To me, at least from a distance, the house is more reminiscent of urban palaces in Scandinavia or Switzerland than what we understand as Catalan Gothic or Romanesque.

This impression changes, though,  when you move in closer.

The ornamentation around the windows is highly detailed and definitely makes the typical Modernista references to Gothic and modern, and is also reminiscent of the tribune windows on Puig i Cadalfalch's Palau Baró de Quadras on Avinguda Diagonal.

Similarly, the tile work, which from the other side of the road seems monotone, is covered in intricate designs and definitely brings Domènech i Montaner to mind.


What many people don't realise is that turn of the century Barcelona was strongly influenced by Northern Europe.

Wagner, in particular, was the darling of the bourgeois industrialist aficionados who attended the Liceo Opera House but Great Britain was also considered the place to send older sons to study and was the inspiration for the industrial renovation that was underway in Barcelona.

In fact, Catalonia has always seen itself as the most North European nation on the Mediterranean, so the Teutonic feel is completely consistent with the Catalan symbols present in much of Cadafalch's work.

This becomes clear if you observe the sculptures by Eusebi Arnau that decorate the facade.

The best known of these depicts Catalonia's patron saint Sant Jordi - Saint George in English - slaying the dragon, which you can see in the photo.

This legend is at once quintessentially Catalan but also Northern European rather than Iberian.

Inside there are more references with some areas being reminiscent of the Sant Jordi Chapel in the Palau de la Generalitat - another building often described as Wagnerian.


***

Casa Amatller really is a magnificent example of Catalan Modernisme, but unfortunately it stands next to one of the finest pieces of art-architecture in the world - Antoni Gaudí's Casa Batlló - so it's not surprising that it is a little overshadowed.

Gaudí had no intention of offending Amatller or Puig i Cadafalch and actually changed his designs for the roof of Casa Batlló so that it would sit more harmoniously alongside its neighbour.

However, if you observe the accompanying photo taken just prior to the construction of Casa Batlló in 1905, the Amatller house definitely lost out.

To add insult to injury the whole of Casa Batlló is a metaphor for the Saint George and the Dragon legend, so even the Catalanism of Casa Amatller is lost to the casual visitor.

It is also interesting to observe the reaction of modern day foreign visitors to Barcelona.

Gaudí has become an architectural icon whilst to most non-Barcelonans Puig i Cadafalch is a relative unknown, so I strongly advise that you try to consider his work in the context of the time

Then, as now, most building projects had a much more practical purpose and despite their brilliance, few designers were given the chance to fulfil the flights of fantasy that Gaudí was able to complete.


Institut Amatller d'Art Hispànic

In 1941, Antoni Amatller's daughter Teresa founded the Institut Amatller d'Art Hispànic - The Amatller Institute of Hispanic Art.

The purpose of the Institute is both to conserve Casa Amatller and its collections and also promote research into Hispanic Art.

It has a photographic archive containing 350,000 negatives on the first floor, and a library with 26,000 art titles on the second floor.

Both are open free of charge to art historians and researchers and you can find more information on the Institut Amatller website listed below.



Visiting Casa Amatller

Casa Amatller
Passeig de Gràcia, 41
08007 Barcelona

Website: www.amatller.org


Opening Times: 11 am to 6 pm

Metro Passeig de Gràcia: Purple L2 Line, Green L3 Line, Yellow L4 Line, RENFE Local Trains





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