anonyrrie: Illustration Friday - Portrait

Sunday, June 04, 2006

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)


Blogger michael dailey said...

sounds like the guy had personal ego problems to bad his wifes had to bare the brunt of them. lovely illo, like the way your background looks like a vine plant frozen over. seems to create a fitting metephor for the story of warmth being squeezed out and turning to bitter ice.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This is so beautiful, such attention to detail!

10:17 PM  
Blogger tiffinix said...

Carla this painting is gorgeous - absolutely stunning! The colors are wonderful! Every part of her, the jewelry, the dress and the flower. Not to mention her expression. So Inspiring!

12:38 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Carla you have captured a wonderful fragile beauty here.

And what a beast the duke was!

4:26 AM  
Blogger Toni said...

You portrayed her just as the poem describes. Beautiful!
there seems to be a bit of sadness in hers eyes which would be understandable. A lack of attention and complete submission would be depressing. Wonderful explanation of the poem.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Quite lovly girl! Love the post!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Tiffy said...

She's beautiful! I love the blue-violet color.

9:31 AM  
Blogger cristosova said...

The background looks really beautiful, reflecting her fragility. A noblewoman, long neck, graceful stature. When reading about the story one just hopes the new-to-be-wife takes the lesson and runs away. Runs real real fast.

12:48 PM  
Blogger fenris said...

beautiful curves in this portrait. i like the composition.

very interesting post as well.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Teri C said...

She is beautiful! Love the flowers she is holding and the background texture. It just looks so serene.

4:21 PM  
Blogger arvindh said...

That is a very beautiful portrait! I love the texture in the background a lot too.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Oh, so pretty and delicate and lovely! Great bg too! WOnderfully done! Mary :-)

8:24 PM  
Blogger F L E E said...

Good to see your illustration back on IF again! Like the texture you created using the waterpaper. It does resembles a painting from a museum.

8:28 PM  
Blogger albina said...

It is a lovely painting, in a formal, Renaissance-like way. Very imaginative background. Thanks for the poem and analysis -- isn't he a Blue Beard...

9:04 PM  
Blogger Aravis said...

Lovely and delicate. :0)

12:32 AM  
Blogger Alina Chau said...

She has the timeless beauty!! Lovely illo!

12:36 AM  
Blogger haze mcelhenny said...

beautiful work - stunniong color choices. have you thought about doing a series of these? as soon as i saw it i thought of tarot cards - and then not. somehting inspirational - like a deck of trading cards especially geared toward women that could be given to friends in times of need [or celebration]. i'm probably not being clear -but maybe you know what i'm getting at.

7:10 AM  
Blogger melba said...

This was very interesting. I wish you were my teacher at school! I guess you are now!
The little flowers on her dress by her neckline look just like the flowers on my wedding and engagement ring.I looked at them when I saw this and both rings have paint and glue on them!I don't like to take them off ever. My engagement ring (is on a different hand) and is stuck. I should probably clean them.
I hope to have exciting news to share with you (through email) later! Thank happy thoughts!

8:57 AM  
Blogger Robert McLaughlin said...


First, thanks for your comment to my portrait post.

You're quite adept at storytelling. The best stories will teach us something about life and character. The story of the Duke and his late wife is unfortunate, and reveals the all-to-common situation of lack of respect and love in marriage. Oftentimes it is the man who simply doesn't love his wife, and prefers to control or own her (I think the story of the Phanton of the Opera illustrates this concept of how ownership of another simply doesn't work). I also think that many wives have a problem with respect for their husbands (as if respect for another somehow requires our own subjugation). I think that the presence of love and respect in the home is a powerful recipie for happiness--but that's just my opinion.

Your portrait is great, I love it. Maybe you will get on with the business of writing and illustrating your own history book someday, huh?


11:06 AM  
Blogger Shano said...

That Duke has some serious issues. However, you created the most beautiful piece! Well done as always. I really enjoyed the story of your inspiration for the piece. And that crinkled background?! Fab!!

12:45 PM  
Blogger modroom said...

Elegant image, unlike the one conjured up by the Duke's approach to things! Agree about background, goes so well with the figure. ...:::::o

12:48 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Ha ha--yeah, I'd have to agree with Shano--the dude has issues. However yet another fascinating story and remarkable accompanying image.

1:09 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

I adore the timeless/mediaeval quality of much of your work combined with a strong graphic sensibility. This would make lovely notecards. Your figurative work continues to get better and better. Summer's coming -- so do soemthing every day (or I'll be nagging you).

3:51 PM  
Blogger The Tart said...

That Duke is on my "bad boy list" ~ all Tarts to beware, sheesh!

But lovely portrait, she looks like she shall rise above the Duke's bad-boy ways! Just wonderful illo.

The Tart

Psst. Thx for always stopping by. ; )

3:52 PM  
Blogger melanienyc said...

very pretty! thanks for your comment on my blog! :)

5:04 PM  
Blogger Amy Zaleski said...

Wow! She is so serenely beautiful and elegant. A really stunning portrait, Carla ~ I'm speechless! I love the newest Journeys contribution as well.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Mike Thompson said...

Beautiful work and thoughtful post, Carla! Always a treat.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Michael O'Connell said...

beautiful work as usual… and thank you for sharing that story… always enlightening visit…

8:50 PM  
Blogger Liz Jones said...

That guy sounds like a real jerk.Lovely portrait!

11:14 AM  
Blogger Christine Lim Simpson said...


1:02 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

Hi Carla,
I am not sure how popular he would be in this day and age. I would have to think most women would have sent him packing-like to a deserted island perhaps. Lovely and very interesting read. Cheers! :)

2:35 PM  
Blogger Jaimie said...

Your painting is beautiful. easily one of my favorites. My Last Duchess. I first read it in high school when I was reading and memorizing a lot of poetry because I just loved to do it. I was struck by how her wonderful qualities were criticized by him. Didn't she treat the servants well, and he slammed her for it. A wonderful poem and lovely illustration.

6:55 PM  
Blogger AG said...

you make such intelligent drawings. :D i always ALWAYS enjoy reading your accompanying story. i think they make me just a lil' bit smarter. heh ^_^"

lovely illustration :D

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carla! This portrait is sublime! The colors and mood you created in this piece with the attention to detail made my head swirl. I really, really love this one.


9:16 AM  
Blogger Roz Foster said...

I love how the duchess looks both regal and slight--is it the perfect arch of that brow? Her big and dark, but tired eyes? Your signature flowers always give your work such a refined touch--as do your literary tie-ins. The Victorians would say you are a very "accomplished" woman.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Twisselman said...

You get such great effects out of those watercolor pencils. Love the background in this one. Of course, the duchess is beautiful, too... Great hair and expression.

10:10 AM  
Blogger TXArtcGal said...

This is absolutely beautiful!...she has such delicate facial features, and her hands are just as dainty; holding a delicate flower. Her hair is wonderful...the coloring is perfect! Beautiful!

11:11 AM  
Blogger HARDWAX said...

I suppose that face, with the beauty and especially the sweet expression can be a wonderful light for some, but turn to darkness for others, most particularly the duke. His words described her as he came to know her, but the portrait conveys the way she saw herself, young, happy and in love with everyone. I love the portrait you've made of this young woman, both of them.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Ian T. said...

A perfect picture - composition, colours, texture - beautiful!

2:12 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

How did I miss this wonderful portrait and story? I came here to see yur jungle: glad I did it so I could admire this fine composition.

11:20 AM  
Blogger creative kismet said...

Beautiful portrait Carla!!

9:50 AM  
Blogger lindaharre said...

Your illustrations are wonderful! Love the large size you are working on in your studio! Great! thanks for your comments on my blog.....always appreciated:-)

10:21 AM  

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