Walter Pater T-shirt
Studies in the History of the Renaissance by Walter Pater
Hyperallergic's Art Library Series
Designed by Peter Rentz
Walter Pater‘s Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) was a hugely important book even if it is largely unknown to art worlders nowadays. It contained the first essay on Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli ever written in English, a famous line that suggests that “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music” and a description of the Mona Lisa that enchanted the Victorian world:
“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants, and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has molded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.”
His critics said that this book encouraged “hedonism” — like that’s a bad thing. But his supporters, who are much more fabulous than his critics could ever be, looked up to him and his ideas, which in turn influenced the Aesthetic Movement of the 19th C.
Oscar Wilde paid tribute to Pater in “The Critic as Artist” (1891) and Pater’s influence can also be seen in the work of art historians and early Modernists, including Bernard Berenson, Roger Fry, Kenneth Clark, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound.