His involvement with Catalan society and art is revealed by his connections with the most important cultural institutions of the period – the Jocs Florals or Floral Games (poetry contests with floral prizes), the Barcelona Athenaeum, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Sant Jordi, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, the Royal Academy of Natural Sciences and Arts, and the Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres of Barcelona – through his professional practice as an architect and many other disciplines.
Domènech was also able to pursue the art of composing and decorating books, thanks to his rich family legacy in this field.
His father Pere Domènech i Saló was one of the best bookbinders of his day and age who specialised in high-quality artistic bookbinding. After his father’s death in 1873, Lluís Domènech joined the family company to help his brother Eduard.
During this period Domènech’s involvement with the graphic arts led him to collaborate directly with the most important printing presses and publishers of the time (Espasa Editores, Montaner y Simón, La Renaixensa, Jaume Jepús, etc.). He also created a series of works with his brother (Biblioteca Arte y Letras, Arte y Letra journal) and other publications. Between 1886 and 1897, under Domènech’s direction, Montaner y Simón published the monumental Historia general del arte, initially written and illustrated by Domènech and then continued by Puig i Cadafalch.
Domènech designed book covers, decorated and storied capital letters, borders, ex libris and flyleaves, and mastheads for newspapers and magazines. He also designed the envelopes that would be used jointly by Domènech and his first partner Josep Vilaseca. His work in all these fields was characterised by the same ornamental language he applied to his architectural oeuvre.
HISTORIAN AND ARCHAEOLOGIST
Domènech’s interest in these fields originated during his childhood and lasted the rest of his life, so we cannot provide a precise date for when it emerged. He applied his knowledge of history to the ornamentation of his buildings.
Domènech’s attraction towards the historical past transcended that of Catalonia and was universal in scale. Requiring great erudition it revealed, above all, hs admiration for Spanish history and art.
His written work on historical studies, both on architectural and stylistic topics, was a constant feature throughout his career. From his first article on the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès published in Album Pintoresch-Monumental de Catalunya 1878, at the age of eighteen, to his monographic study on the monastery of Poblet published posthumously in 1925, not to mention lectures and articles such as ‘Carácters propis de l’Arquitectura catalana á través de diferentas épocas y estils artistichs’, ‘El temple romà de Barcelona’, ‘El baptisteri de Centelles’, ‘Història de l’art romànic a Catalunya’ and ‘Los jarrones hispano-árabes’ among many others. His most important work was the aforementioned Historia general del arte, a series which he also edited although he only wrote the first volume, before giving the baton to Puig i Cadafalch.
After the series of political disappointments that eventually led him to abandon public office, Domènech would continue to devote himself passionately to disseminating Catalanism, albeit only in the cultural sphere. The fruits of this research were the works Centcelles. Baptisteri i Cellae- Memoriae de la primitiva església metropolitana de Tarragona (1921), Història i arquitectura del monestir de Poblet (1925), La iniquitat de Casp i la fi del Comtat d’Urgell (1930) and Ensenyes nacionals de Catalunya (1936), the last three published posthumously and thanks to the collaboration of his son Fèlix Domènech i Roura.
Domènech also became a member of what is now known as the Royal Catalan Academy of Fine Arts of Sant Jordi in 1901, without making a speech at the welcoming ceremony; by extension, in 1903 he joined the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando..
In1921, towards the end of his life, he was named Member of the Academy of Belles-Lettres and delivered a speech on the Baptistery of Centcelles.
JOCS FLORALS: FLORAL GAMES POETRY CONTEST
The Barcelona Jocs Florals (Floral Games) poetry competition linked to the cultural trends within the Catalan national movement was established in 1859, and from quite a young age Domènech i Montaner would be a regular participant. In 1878 he designed the cover for the publication of the winning poem, Jacint Verdaguer’s L’Atlàntida, by Montaner y Simón.
In 1881 he acted as chairman of the contest. This was the first time he participated in the Council of the Barcelona Floral Games, albeit only as member of the jury. At that time he had already formed very close ties with the literary world thanks to his links with Catalanism and his involvement in the family publishing business. The Floral Games were fully consolidated, and that year the awards were presided over by Jacint Verdaguer.
In 1895, a year of intense political activism, Domènech acted as president of the Council of the Barcelona Floral Games and in his opening speech he stressed the connection between the poetry contest and Catalanism: ‘Los Jochs Florals han d’ésser una festa patriòtica o deixar d’existir ‘(The Floral Games should be a patriotic festivity or cease to be held).
THE ATENEU BARCELONÈS
Domènech became a member of the Ateneu Barcelonès (Barcelona Atheneaum) at a very early age and he soon stood out in the activities organised by the Fine Arts section.
A collection of letters and a sketch Domènech made in 1878 for the refurbishment of the rooms the Ateneu occupied in the Teatre Principal on Barcelona’s Rambla dels Caputxins (a project eventually discarded), have survived to our days. In 1898 he was elected president by a large majority of votes. On this occasion his opening speech was entitled ‘El catalanisme i les condicions del poble català’. The Ateneu was a very active institution, and one of the few that was frequented by people of various political currents and different social extraction. This explains why it was one of the organisations that political Catalanism strove to control. Domènech was re-elected president in 1899.
He occupied the presidency again in 1904 and 1905, and his presidential speech in 1905, which was not published, mentioned his studies on the Catalan Romanesque. During his presidency, the Ateneu acquired its own premises, the Baron of Sabassona Palace on Carrer Canuda. The refurbishment of the building that would house the organisation was supervised by Font i Gomà, under Domènech’s supervision.
Re-elected in 1911, 1912 and 1913, he became the first person to be elected president on seven occasions. Before and after his tenures, his activity was intense and included multiple lectures and contributions to the institution’s cultural and social life.
Domènech contributed numerous articles to a range of publications, and wrote frequently on art, teaching, architectural theory, town planning, politics, etc.
He began to collaborate with La Renaixensa journal in 1875, in which his famous article ‘En busca d’una arquitectura nacional’ would be published in1878. He was a regular contributor to La Veu de Catalunya, both the daily and the weekly, La Il·lustració Catalana edited by Francesc Matheu, Lo Catalanista de Sabadell, La Il·lustració Llevantina, El Poble Català, el Butlletí de l’Ateneu Barcelonès, l’Anuari de l’Associació d’Arquitectes de Catalunya, Hispània, etc
Disillusioned with politics during the last years of his life, in spite of the praise and public recognition his architecture had attained, Domènech began to delegate large architectural projects to his son and son-in-law and devoted himself almost exclusively to archaeological research and history. He showed a great interest in heraldry, both from a scientific and an artistic point of view, and studied civic heraldry and its symbols as they featured on tombs, tapestries, stamps, robes, miniatures, codices, chronicles, coins, ceramics, monuments, etc. From Germany to the Mediterranean, Celtic or Byzantines, these symbols would later appear in his own ornamental style after he studied hundreds of models of heraldic emblems in specialised sources from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Over years of study he gathered extensive material on field trips, in collaboration with the Archaeological Society of Barcelona, the Archaeological Society of Tarragona and the Catalanist Association for Scientific Excursions, later renamed the Excursionist Centre of Catalonia (CEC, for its initials in Catalan), and from his continuous visits and inquiries at different museums, archives and libraries including the Historical Archive of Madrid, the National Archive of Paris, the Library of El Escorial and the Royal Library of Belgium. This research led to the publication of three great studies, in collaboration with his children: Armorial històric, nominated for and winner of the 1922 Martorell Award, Nobiliari general català de llinatges, published with his son Fèlix (together with a wide compilation of banners, up to 4400 blazons), published in 1923, and Ensenyes nacionals de Catalunya. Estudi històric, a posthumous work published by Fèlix in 1936.