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My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

Art and Culture Theme

"My Last Duchess" is a piece of art about a piece of (fictional) art – a poem about a pretend painting. The speaker of the poem, the Duke of Ferrara, is a connoisseur and collector of objets d’art, or art objects, which he displays privately in order to impress people. In this poem, art and culture become tools for demonstrating social status – and ways to reduce unstable elements, like the Duchess herself, to things that can be physically controlled.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Why does the Duke have a private art gallery? To whom do you think he usually shows the objects in his collection?
  2. Why is there a curtain over the portrait of the "last Duchess"? (Hint: can the portrait be moved?)
  3. Why is it so important that the portrait of the Duchess is full-length and extremely lifelike? How does the replacement of the real Duchess with her portrait work? What does the Duke gain by this replacement? What does he lose?
  4. How does the bronze statue of Neptune taming a seahorse relate to the portrait of the Duchess? Why does the Duke make a point of showing this second object to the Count’s servant?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Even though the Duke is a collector of art objects, he doesn’t really appreciate them; he only cares about the way they increase his status and demonstrate his power.

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