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The most obvious statement about art is in “Fra Lippo Lippi,” in which Browning, in Lippi’s voice, defends the artist’s life, his balance of art and commerce, and his impulse to visualize the values of human life. But, more subtly, in “My Last Duchess,” he expresses the servitude and subservience of the artist, in the Duke’s arrogant attitude toward the artist at work: “I said Fra Pandolph by design…” And even more subtly, “which Claus of Innsbuck cast in bronze for me.” The class structure here shows that the duke (and by implication other patron of the arts) feels superior to the artist, whom he treats as “purchases” who distort nature and beauty into commodity. Browning himself felt he was not free to express himself, but was obligated to those who held his livelihood in their hands.
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