Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the preface to The Renaissance, Walter Pater writes, “The subjects of the following studies . . . touch what I think the chief points in that complex, many-sided movement.” The subjects themselves are the French, Italian, and German writers, painters, and sculptors, ranging from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, in whose lives and in whose works Pater finds represented the many sides, the divergent attitudes and aims, of the Renaissance.
Pater’s method is impressionistic. The task of the aesthetic critic, he says, is first to realize distinctly the exact impression that a work of art makes upon him (or her), then to determine the source and conditions—the “virtue”—of that impression, and finally to express that virtue so that the impression it has made on him may be shared by others. The Renaissance is the record of the impressions induced in the refined sensibilities of Pater by the art he studied.
The Renaissance, for Pater, was “not merely the revival of classical antiquity which took place in the fifteenth century . . . but a whole complex movement, of which that revival of classical antiquity was but one element or symptom.” Accordingly, in the first chapter, he finds the roots of the movement in twelfth and thirteenth century France, illustrated in two prose romances of that time, Amis and Amile and Aucassin and Nicolette. It is in their “spirit of rebellion and revolt...
(The entire section is 1967 words.)
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