The straight line is the line of Man, the curve is the line of God
Cathedrals are breath-taking by design. Their architects have always sought to portray religious grandeur (at least overtly) but detractors have likewise accused them of self-glorification. Today’s masterpiece is almost unrivaled in aspiration and it is still incomplete.
As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :
Towering over the city of Barcelona and still unfinished after over 130 years, La Sagrada Familia (“The Holy Family”) Cathedral is the jaw-dropping brainchild of one of the most eccentric architects of modern times, Antoni Gaudi. Though he was one of the most influential modern architects, Gaudi was also a diligent student of earlier styles—so much so that one of his fellow architects said that if Chartres Cathedral were to be completely destroyed, Gaudi could, from memory, rebuild it exactly as it had been.
The cathedral he designed himself, however, was very different from the Gothic cathedrals he knew so well. He avoided the usual straight lines and right angles of the Gothic style and created a cathedral that feels organic, more like something that grew up out of the earth rather than being constructed upon it. The building is like an eruption in stone, melting and dissolving into a fluidity of form that is not meant to achieve some abstract ideal of beauty but to reflect the lines and shapes found in nature. “The straight line is the line of Man, the curve is the line of God,” he once said. Gaudi found a way to reach the dizzying heights of the Gothic without the use of flying buttresses, which he felt were artificial. Instead, he designed arches that would carry the weight and still allow the multiple spires to soar.
Whereas much of the statuary on a traditional cathedral seems to be an accessory to the building, here the abundant carvings swarm over the whole structure in such a way that they seem to be the building. These designs are peopled with the usual saints and biblical stories but also with arcane symbolism and with the bounty of the natural world: seashells, birds, flowers, fruit, and foliage. Gaudi was attempting to condense the entirety of the Catholic doctrine he embraced in this one single project, and in doing so the building overflows with an overwhelming profusion of images.
Does ornate architecture inspire or detract from reverence?
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
(1852–1926). One of the first sites to be visited by tourists in Barcelona, Spain, is the Sagrada Família, or Church of the Holy Family. The building, as yet unfinished, was the lifework of architect Antoni Gaudí. Like most of his later works, the church was the creation of a remarkably imaginative—perhaps even eccentric—artist who designed buildings that seemed to be more like natural, organic growths than mere technological achievements. (see architecture; Barcelona.)
Antoni (Antonio in Spanish) Gaudí i Cornet was born on June 25, 1852, in the city of Reus in Catalonia, Spain. He always thought of himself as a Catalan, not a Spaniard. Much of his artistic achievement reflected a renaissance of Catalan art and a rebellion against the influences of Madrid and Castile. In the years 1870 to 1878 he studied architecture at the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona. In his early work he experimented with a variety of traditional styles. Among these were the Mudéjar, Spain’s traditional Christian-Muslim mixture; the Gothic; and the baroque (see architecture). The styles were traditional, but what Gaudí did with them was not. He developed a manner of composition by unprecedented juxtapositions of geometric masses, the surfaces of which were animated with patterned brick or stone, bright ceramic tiles, and floral or reptilian designs. Gaudí created his own version of Art Nouveau, a style that was sweeping Europe and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Examples of his Mudéjar style are the Casa Vicens, the Güell Estate, and the Palacio Güell, all located in Barcelona. Examples of his Gothic experiments are the Palacio Episcopal at Astorga and the Casa de los Botines in León. His baroque work is represented by the Casa Calvet in Barcelona.
Gaudí’s buildings after 1902 cannot neatly and easily be classified by any traditional terminology. Except for certain obvious symbols of nature or religion, they became essentially representations of their structure and materials. He arrived at a way of building that has been called equilibrated: structures were designed to stand on their own without internal bracing or external buttressing. They were meant, Gaudí said, to stand as trees stand.
Among the primary elements of his design were piers and columns that tilt to transmit diagonal thrusts and thin-shell, laminated tile vaults that exert very little thrust. Gaudí applied this system to two apartment buildings, the Casa Batlló and the Casa Milá. In the latter, the several floors are structured to resemble clusters of lily pads with steel-beam veins.
Gaudí was a major contributor to the Catalan Renaixensa, or artistic revival, that often was combined with sentiments of political independence from the rest of Spain. The religious symbol of this renaissance was the Church of the Holy Family. He was commissioned to build this church in 1883.
After 1910 he abandoned nearly all other efforts to concentrate on it. He even secluded himself on the site and lived in the workshop. The building, on first view, reminds one of Gothic cathedrals; but Gaudí has so transformed the style by his sidewalls, vaults, and piers that the spirit of Gothic is made to live in new surroundings.
Just before he turned 75, the architect was struck by a trolley car. He died from the injuries on June 10, 1926. Ignored by both art historians and laymen alike for some decades, Gaudí has come to be admired for his imagination and brilliance of design.
Sources and Resources
“Gaudí, Antoni,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).
Boada, Isidro Puig, and Seiji Miyaguchi. Antonio Gaudi. DVD. Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. New York: Criterion Collection, 2008.
Crippa, Maria Antonietta. Gaudi. Köln: Taschen, 2007.
Ivereigh, Austen. “God’s Architect.” America. September 27, 2010.
Kuhl, Isabel. 50 Buildings You Should Know. Munich: Prestel, 2007.
van Hensbergen, Gijs. Gaudi: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).
I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.
Let’s explore together!
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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.
He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.
He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.
Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.
He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.
Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com
Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.
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