Aesthetic Criticism and Classical Reception
Pater’s awareness of how the notion of classicism is embedded in cultural and material history makes him an early theorist of classical reception. Throughout his writings, his understanding of classical culture was not derived exclusively from the direct study of Greek and Roman sources, but also from a systematic and sceptical investigation of how the classical ‘original’ is constantly modified through time. This chapter aims to examine Pater’s take on eighteenth-century classicism, mainly as articulated in his study of Winckelmann in a seminal early essay (1867) that constitutes the first extensive English-language criticism of the influential German art historian. Pater’s portrayal of Winckelmann as classicist will be situated within an international tradition of writing about Winckelmann. Particular attention will be paid to the ambiguous construction of Winckelmann as model not only to imitate but also to overthrow, and to Pater’s radical depiction of homoerotic desire as a marker of ‘authentic’ classical taste.
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