In his preface to The Renaissance Walter Pater begins with the assertion that beauty is not definable in the abstract, and instead it is relative. He states beauty can, or should, only be defined specifically and personally, the viewer should come to an individual understanding influenced by their specific situation and viewpoint.

To define beauty, not in the most abstract but in the most concrete terms possible, to find not its universal formula, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.

Pater states later that the role of a critic is to reduce art to its elements in order to find the beauty and show it to others.

And the function of the aesthetic critic is to distinguish, to analyse, and separate from its adjuncts, the virtue by which a picture, a landscape, a fair personality in life or in a book, produces this special impression of beauty or pleasure, to indicate what the source of that impression is, and under what conditions it is experienced. His end is reached when he has disengaged that virtue, and noted it, as a chemist notes some natural element, for himself and others.


1. Can someone else hand us their interpretation of beauty, or can we only see the real beauty with our personal understanding?

2. How effective is it for us to see someone else's distillation of art? Is it really beauty if it is not interpreted by us?

3. Does Pater think we can see the true beauty in someone else's distillation of art? If not why does he bother to give us his if it is not as satisfactory as coming to our own understanding?

4. What techniques does Pater use to successfully (or not) convey his distillation of beauty to his reader? Is the preface one of these techniques?

Last modified May 2003