Symphonies in black and grey, harmonies in iron and steel: Walter Pater painting the French Wars of Religion in Gaston de Latour

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Walter Pater’s unfinished historical novel Gaston de Latour (1888-94), set during the French wars of religion in the late sixteenth century, operates on a complex monochromatic colour symbolism which ties the colours of sixteenth-century French art together with a late nineteenth-century synaesthesia. The essay explores the ways in which Pater engaged with J. A. M. Whistler, John Ruskin, Emilia Pattison, Alexandre Dumas, and Charles Baudelaire in his evocation of the aesthetics of Renaissance France. While also being profoundly involved with the historiography, biography, prose and poetry of sixteenth-century France, Pater let the colours of the past rise to the surface of his text, transforming them to his own purpose. His highly idiosyncratic use of the colour schemes and materials of Renaissance art alert us to the clashes between north and south, the Flemish and the Italianate influences on French Renaissance art, to the complexities of portraiture, line versus colour, a golden palette contrasted with a blue one. Pater’s carefully controlled colour symbolism, often moving within a Whistlerian monochromatic scale, gives us highly aestheticized depictions of ugliness, in inter-human relationships both on a national and on a personal level, thus exposing the subversive powers of beauty. As we dig underneath the beautiful surface, horror and ugliness abound, inviting us to think more broadly about decadence as a recurrent phenomenon.
TidsskriftWord & Image
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)27–36
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - 10 apr. 2020

ID: 255359131