My Last Duchess
by Robert Browning
My Last Duchess Theme of Art and Culture
"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
- Why does the Duke have a private art gallery? To whom do you think he usually shows the objects in his collection?
- Why is there a curtain over the portrait of the "last Duchess"? (Hint: can the portrait be moved?)
- 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?
- 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
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.