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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller

What is Casa Amatller?

Casa Amatller is an urban mansion in Barcelona that was designed by Catalan Modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch for 19th-century chocolatier Antoni Amatller.

Casa Amatller

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Casa Amatller History

In the late 19th century, Antoni Amatller inherited his family’s chocolate business, with its small factory on the outskirts of the city. Over the next 50 years, the chocolatier transformed the company into one of Europe’s best-known brands, which is still around to this day. Although his working life revolved around chocolate, Amatller spent much of his spare time studying and admiring art. In fact, he regularly contracted famous Catalan artists to design advertisement posters for his company, understanding their effectiveness in attracting new customers.

The wealth Amatller amassed allowed him to pursue side interests, mainly antique collecting and travelling. He was particularly fond of glass vessels. Throughout his life he collected over 400 pieces on his travels throughout Europe, North Africa and Turkey. He and his daughter Teresa were also passionate amateur photographers, an expensive hobby at the time. They shared an exceptionally close bond as Antoni's wife had left them when Teresa was only four, and he had raised his daughter by himself. As he grew older and his glass collection more extensive, he decided to invest part of his fortune in creating a new family home.

In 1898, he acquired a house on the elegant Passeig de Gràcia and commissioned celebrated Catalan Modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, whom he had long admired, to transform it into his city residence. The house was redesigned as an urban mansion. As was common in constructions of this type, the ground floor would be set aside for functional use, the first floor would be used as the family’s quarters, and the upper storeys would be rented out.

Casa Amatller details

Puig i Cadafalch incorporated elements representative of Antoni Amatller into the decoration of the façade, including sculptures that symbolise industry, the arts and his patron’s love of collecting. The architect paid close attention to detail, making the Dutch-inspired stepped gable (at the top of the façade) resemble the segments of a bar of chocolate. The architect also added colourful glass elements to the roof and windows, in homage to Antoni Amatller's collection. Subtle references to the architect's patron continue within the house. Notably, Puig i Cadafalch designed custom hardwood flooring depicting almond trees – Amatller was very likely a misspelling of Ametller, a surname derived from the Catalan word for ‘almond tree’. Other oblique references to chocolate are scattered around, including a sculpture on the majestic fireplace in the family’s dining room, depicting two women on a boat. The women symbolise Europe and America and are a metaphor for Amatller's cocoa bean trade with South America.

Not only did Puig i Cadafalch construct an architectural masterpiece, he also ensured that the house was at the cutting edge of technology. The building included electric lights that could be switched to gas, a garage with a rotating platform, and even a lift from the kitchen for transporting food swiftly – and all that at a time when only five per cent of households in Barcelona had electricity.

The house was eventually completed in 1900. Antoni died ten years after taking up residence there. In 1941, his daughter Teresa created the Institut Amatller d'Art Hispànic, with the dual purpose of conserving the Casa Amatller and its collections and promoting research into the history of Hispanic art. A visit to the house allows you to step back into the past, a vivid reminder of the life of Barcelona's high society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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