Walter Pater

(1839—1894) author and aesthete

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(b London, 4 Aug. 1839; d Oxford, 30 July 1894).

English essayist and critic. A bachelor don at Brasenose College, Oxford, he lived uneventfully with his two spinster sisters and was the unlikely standard-bearer for Aestheticism, which set a supreme value upon the enjoyment of beauty. His best-known book is Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), which includes essays on Winckelmann, the then neglected Botticelli, and Leonardo, with his celebrated evocation of the Mona Lisa: ‘She is older than the rocks among which she sits.’ This volume (which concludes ‘To burn always with this hard gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life’), though attacked by some as unscholarly and morbid, had a profound influence on the undergraduates of the day and was acclaimed by Oscar Wilde as ‘the holy writ of beauty’.

Subjects: Literature.

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