In a superior display of rhetoric, the Duke Ferrera enumerates that which he will and will not permit in a wife as he displays the portrait of his "last duchess" to the agent of the father of a young woman the duke hopes to marry. After his mention that Fra Pandolf was commissioned for the portrait, Stanton Millet in his essay "Art and Reality in 'My Last Duchess'," holds that the Duke's allusion to the painter is part of his answer to an aesthetic question. This question is raised by Fra Pandolf's remark,
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat."
There can be three effects from this remark:
- The Duke attributes the complexity of the expression of the Duchess to the remarks of Fra Pandolf. Perhaps, the Duchess was flattered by the artist's compliments and she enjoyed them, but she must not appear to do so for fear of her husband's jealousy.
- This look which paint cannot capture provides the Duke reason for his reviling the Duchess, accusing her of having "A heart...too soon made glad."
- With a "spot of joy" that is painted on the duchess that is inexplicable, the Duke can, then, reduce her to an object of art, much like the statue of Neptune at the foot of the stairs.
Clearly, there is something about the blush of the Duchess upon which the artist comments that elicits the question of its source by all who look upon it.