He could even be Fra Pandolf, who knew how to paint and flatter at the same time: [...] Perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps Over my Lady's wrist too much', or 'Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat.' (My Last Duchess, ll.
To put it tendentiously, because freedom means freedom to be vulgar, because secularization places the uninhibited self above the constraints of piety, because God in this new world has given place to Me: his new patrons would keep saying things like 'This likes me more, and this affects me less.' Lippi, Raphael, Fra Pandolf have entered this world, the world in which Leonardo has to design war machines for his patron; and the pictor ignotus has chosen to keep out of it.
Eyeing the poem's nested utterances, we do not actually see fictitious Fra Pandolf's imaginary portrait of the "last Duchess" (line 1), whose peerless "looks" (24) from inside an iconic "wonder" (3) will supposedly imprint the envoy.
The duke minds Fra Pandolf's work, however good it may be, less for its potent image than for its (un)canny pretext; Browning's outstanding poem, too, is iconographic, another speaking picture which we heed, while it sizes us up as critical guests.
Fra Pandolf's portrait of her, including the duke's words, reflects how Browning turns us inside out: what adjoins reading to creative work - object and process - is the sensation of discovering a matchless frame that keeps us in trim.
/ Taming a sea-horse" (54-55); linking polite questions or requests, "Will't please you sit and look at her?" (5) and "Will't please you rise?" (47); linking Fra Pandolf and the count's delegate as (dis)qualified speakers; and linking a "now" of aesthetic judgment with a "then" of marital prerogative.(1) When we understand the point of comparing the less than picture-perfect duchess to Fra Pandolf's rendition of her, we also get the picture of the count's expendable daughter as a framing and framed "object" (53), no longer an illegible figure at the margins of discourse.
Further, through Fra Pandolf's artistry her passage from curiosity to superiority - often a hermeneutic ideal - illustrates to the legate not only how "she stands" (4, 46), but also how to enforce any duchess's deportment.
Fra Pandolf's portrait of the duchess exemplifies for the duke her hamartia, being so lively that she "miss[es]" or "exceed[s] the mark" (38-39) he draws for decorum.
The duke, emphatically saying "'Fra Pandolf' by design" (6), tries to impress his guest with the artist's credentials; we're thinking "Fra, who?" and perhaps imagining some artistic monstrosity.
"My Last Duchess" and "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church" appeared in 1842 and 1845, respectively, and are models, in these earlier volumes, of the kind of irony and immediacy which the dramatic method at its best is capable of generating: That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive, I call That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf
's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands.