[This essay first appeared in the Spring
1989 issue of
here are two reasons why Pater would have found the Pre-Raphaelite poet-painter Rossetti both a congenial subject in himself and of considerable value in his continuing cold war with Ruskin. In the first place, many of Pater's earlier writings comment favourably upon Rossetti's work or echo his poetry. Secondly, because Ruskin's 1883 Art of England lectures effectively disown Rossetti as a painter they allow Pater to appropriate him from his earliest champion and to rewrite the history of Pre-Raphaelites as an aesthetic literary movement rather than a school of Ruskinian painters, by implication exposing Ruskin's volte-face about Rossetti.
At the same time as he was in correspondence with Ward about his Rossetti essay Pater was in contact with William Sharp who was writing a book entitled Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Record and Study. In February 1883 Pater told Sharp how gratified he was to be connected in this book "with the subject of Rossetti, whose genius and work I esteemed so greatly" (Letters 48). Pater's high estimate of Rossetti is also expressed in his "School of Giorgione" essay in The Renaissance in which he speaks of "another favourite picture in the Louvre subject of a delightful sonnet by a poet whose own painted work often comes to mind as one ponders over these precious things- the Fete Champetre" (114). This comment implies a familiarity with Rossetti's rarely exhibited paintings as well as his sonnet "For a Venetian Pastoral, By Giorgione," a knowledge which serves Pater well in his 1883 Rossetti essay which highlights the pictorialism of his poetry, and thereby evokes Ruskin's appoach to Rossetti's painting (Works, 188).
Elsewhere Pater unobtrusively but unmistakably echoes Rossetti's poetry. In 1863 Rossetti published a poem entitled "Sudden Light," and in The Renaissance Pater describes how "A sudden light transfigures some trivial thing" (140), an echo which suggests that Pater subscribes to the notion of epiphany which appears in Rossetti's poem. Similarly in "The Child in the House" the narrator recalls how he used to visit "the great church with its giddy winding stair up to the pigeons and the bells a citadel of peace in the heart of the trouble" (SWP 3). Pater's description recalls the epiphanic imagery of windy staircases and tolling bells which Rossetti uses repeatedly in such poems as "The Staircase of Notre Dame, Paris," "Antwerp and Bruges," and "World's Worth" (Works 179, 187, 191).
- Pater's Aesthetic Poet: The Appropriation of Rossetti from Ruskin — Introduction
- Why Pater Wanted to Write about Rossetti in 1883
- Pater's "Dante Gabriel Rossetti" and His Intellectual Relation to Ruskin
- Ruskin's 1883 Lecture on the "Realistic Schools of Painting"
- Walter Pater's "Dante Gabriel Rossetti" versus His "Aesthetic Poetry"
- Pater's Characterization of Rossetti's Poetry
Last modified 2002