The Sagrada Família: The Astonishing Story of Gaudí's Unfinished Masterpiece

In the historical context of church construction--in which France's Strasbourg Cathedral took almost 500 years to finish--Antoni Gaudí's Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona, still being built after 135 years, is just a piker. As Gijs van Hensbergen paraphrases Gaudí, "With a client as patient as God, what was a mere 150 years?" Van Hensbergen (Guernica), an art historian and television commentator, has already written a biography of Gaudí, so his illustrated The Sagrada Família is more of a study of the building itself. With more than four million visitors a year, the Sagrada Família is one of Europe's most popular attractions.

With an ecumenical scholar's background, van Hensbergen positions Gaudí among the architects and artists of his time, like the modernism of Manet and the Catalan art nouveau movement, with its emphasis on craft, material and decoration. The son of a small forge shop smithy, Gaudí grew up watching chunks of steel be hammered into useful and beautiful shapes. Trained in fundamental architectural and engineering skills, Gaudí, however, preferred to design and build conceptually by touch--more of a field architect than one bound by drawings and specifications. He was killed in a horse tram accident on his way to church for his daily confession. Bystanders thought he was a homeless bum and left him in the street without medical help. His masterpiece still had 100 years of construction ahead until its expected completion in 2026. In the larger scheme of things, what's another nine years--or more? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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