Some days before 2015 ended we were invited by the Casa Batlló at a series of talks on Gaudí’s modernism and his Mediterranean roots, the #CharlasCB. It is an initiative undertaken by the education department of the museum, along with the media department, that aims to offer free talks to the city tourist guides. The conferences are conducted with Monica Cruz, architect and expert in modernism.
The previous talk was about the front of the building, this time the interiors and the typology of a typical “tenement” of the nineteenth century (it was build around 1877) was considered.
— Casa Batlló (@CasaBatlloGaudi) December 16, 2015
In the late nineteenth century the Catalan bourgeoisie and especially the rich families based in Barcelona, began to have an important influence within the society of the time. Thanks to the industry and the industrial colonies, some families started to acquire large amounts of money that were invested mainly in buying and collecting, both art and furniture, as well as in reforming their houses to show off and give a sense of grandeur, giving rise to the first great modernist houses, plenty for decoration and abundance. Casa Batlló (Batlló Haus) is one of the most famous examples of this phenomena. It was remodelled between 1904 and 1906, in this case however not only the façade was changed (most typical) but also the interior was restructured with changes in the ornamenting rather than distribution..
— Cultius Culturals (@CultiusCultural) December 16, 2015
The ‘tenements’ were houses in which a floor normally was inhabited by the bourgeois family and the rest was rented to third parties. In this case, it was the Batlló family (in fact it was acquired in 1903 by Joan Batlló i Casanovas, married to Amalia Godó), that thanks to the textile industry, they reached a high social status becoming a part of the middle-class of Barcelona. They even bought nobility titles, as was usual at the time, in order to finally become part of the aristocracy.
For the rebuilding and the ornamentation, Gaudí used the so called “leitmotiv”, widely used by most part of modernist architects . A Leitmotiv is the repetition of symbols and figures as decoration theme for creating cohesion in the whole building. Very often it was family symbols of heraldry, but in the case of Batlló family, it represents the seabed, giving the sensation of being inside a living creature, as is the case with the central stairs which give access to the upper floors and look like the spine of some animal.
Although Gaudí’s work might make us thing of imagination and fantasy, he did not forget the technical and practical aspects, such as the use of natural light, the play with perceptions, the use of translucent crystals for certain spaces to provide privacy, separation of environments, etc. He was so much precise in their designs that he even asked for the number of men and women who would live in the house in order to design custom chairs depending on gender; the latter, of course, was finally not done.
One of the main features of this rebuilding that Gaudí did was the incorporation of elements of modernity, as is the case of one of the first industrial fireplaces, modern bathrooms, elevator and heating system; or certain elements of decoration, like a window, which gave way to an incipient rationalism. He also began to give importance to the hierarchy of spaces and to the inner courtyard, one of the most beautiful and popular house’s places today.
Years later, Iberia Seguros (Insurance Company) and Roca de Vinyals Laboratories rented the floors. Afterwards Bernat family – inventors of Chupa-Chups- acquired the building, and are still the current owners. The Modernist Museum of the Casa Batlló is the current tenant since 1991, when it started to be set up for the museum until its opening to the public in 2012.
The day of our visit, the talk cas supplemented with the attendance of Mercedes Marimón, widow of one of the sons of Mr. Batlló and current owner of the main floor. She still lives in the house and explained us some anecdotes such as the impossibility of hanging any picture or putting a table against a wall. Definitely, the materials and wavy shapes of Gaudí are perennial in time and space.
Front image: Air shaft of Casa Batlló (detalle). Web Casa Batlló https://www.casabatllo.es/galerias/oficiales/
Other articles by Guiomar:
- Online Art | The Art Market Agency
- Thought and visual culture. #PicassoEdu
- Elliott Erwitt. Museums and dogs