Illustration Friday - Portrait
Robert Browning's poem, "My Last Duchess," which is loosely based on events in the life of Alfonso II d'Este, fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533-1597) employs the concept of portraiture on several levels. The Duke, whose first wife Lucrezia died in 1561 after they'd been married for three years, addresses an envoy who has come to negotiate the Duke's marriage to the daughter of the Count of Tyrol. Stopping before a striking portrait of the young and beautiful Duchess, the Duke takes the opportunity to paint a verbal portrait of his late wife. Ironically, it is through the Duke's description of his last Duchess that the reader discovers even more about the Duke's true character.
Throughout his monolgue, the Duke denigrates his first wife, whose "heart ...[was] too soon made glad...too easily impressed," suggesting that she was a shameless flirt who did not appreciate his "gift of a nine-hundred-years- old name." Yet as the Duke continues his harshly negative portrayal of the Duchess's character, an image of the Duke as an arrogant and jealous man who was both enthralled by his wife's beauty and infuriated by his inability to control her spirit begins to emerge. When the Duke relates how, frustrated by the Duchess's indiscriminate warmth and smiling demeanor, "[he] gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together," the reader realizes that the Duke was responsible for his wife's demise. This disclosure concludes the Duke's discussion of his last Duchess, and he then returns to the business of arranging for new marriage with another young woman.
Confident that his self-portrait as a nobleman of wealth, power, taste, and intellect places him in a favorable light, the Duke uses his verbal portrait of his last Duchess as a warning to his new wife. Although she may be a thing of rare beauty, the Duke see himself as "Neptune...taming a sea-horse," and will stand for no less than complete submission.
(micron pen, watercolor pencils, and acrylic on 185 lb. watercolor paper)