Published to great acclaim in 1873, Walter Pater’s compendium of idiosyncratic, impressionistic essays on the Renaissance gained him a reputation as a daring modern philosopher. Oscar Wilde called it the “holy writ of beauty.” It was Pater’s cry of “art for art’s sake” that became the manifesto for the aesthetic movement. He believed that art should be sensual and that beauty should rank as the highest ideal. Marked by elegant fluency, Pater’s essays discuss Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and other artists who, for him, embodied the spirit of the Renaissance. Pater’s work survives to this day as one of the best pieces of cultural criticism to emerge from the 19th century.
This collection is criticism as beautiful as the art it considers.
“It is not often that we have to welcome a book like this, which brings its readers into fresh and intimate relations with remote phases of life and art, informing these with the vivid glow of a new personality…It is hard to analyze the results of analysis, and to criticize criticism. But if it is necessary to look for the secret of Mr. Pater’s success in The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, it might be stated as lying in a peculiar exquisiteness, distinction, refinement, occupying itself with artistic subjects somewhat remote in character…There is a command of such a style as has not before been written, a wonderful style that sometimes threatens to overstep the limits of prose, delicate, dainty, impassioned, yet certain and chastened.” (
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