The Sacred in Pater’s Aesthetic
Ambivalences and Tensions
Walter Pater’s aesthetic is shaped by the tension between the spiritual and the material, the pure and the impure. While his contemporaries appreciate the purity of his art, it should be understood that concerns with the material impure also inform, among other works, the two narratives Denys l’Auxerrois and Gaudioso, the Second. This analysis shows how Pater’s dual aesthetic affects his understanding of the category of the sacred, in line with contemporary anthropological thought. The representations of Denys, a modern embodiment of the Greek god Dionysus, and of Gaudioso the saint subvert dominant ideologies of productivity and progress, suggesting a renewed experience of the sacred. The aesthetic and the sacred are thus positioned as interlinked spaces for the expression of the repressed and the displaced, while Pater’s sense of the sacred is significantly re-oriented towards the human.