The notion of beauty, in its various meanings and manifestations, has long fascinated authors and critics. Its appeal fuelled the artistic endeavours of the nineteenth century, captivated its audiences, and haunted the literary movements of the last 100 years. Walter Pater, in the opening lines of The Renaissance, a touchstone for Victorian aestheticism, observed how attempts to ‘define beauty’ have most often been conducted ‘in the abstract’. Pater’s call for the ‘student of æsthetics’ to observe beauty in its specific instances – in separate works of art, experienced by individual observers – holds in play the idea of beauty both as an eternal value and a fleeting impression: a universal truth and nothing more than a fluctuating emotion subject to the vagaries of time...

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