What are some Italian Renaissance elements found in "My Last Duchess"?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Duke of Ferrara who narrates "My Last Duchess" is what Browning would consider a prototypical Renaissance Italian character. He may be based on Alfonso II d'Este (22 November 1533 – 27 October 1597), a Renaissance Italian nobleman. 

The Duke is a collector of art, both of his own period and of works imitating the classical past. He is extremely wealthy, but he does not see aesthetic or spiritual value in the works he collects, nor does he value people for their inner selves, but instead he is purely worldly, both in the sense of sophisticated and cosmopolitan but also in the sense of valuing only the tangible material goods of this world. Browning regards this habit of collecting as characteristic of the Renaissance.

The most typical Renaissance element of the poem is the portrait of the Duchess by Frà Pandolf. This portrait is in a distinct Italian Renaissance style, which emphasizes realism (in contrast to the more spiritual focus of medieval art) and delicate coloring. He may be based on an earlier painter about whom Browning writes elsewhere, Frà Filippo Lippi (1406 – 1469), about whom Browning wrote elsewhere, who painted delicately beautiful portraits, but was also sexually quite active despite the putative celibacy of the monastic vocation. 

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My Last Duchess

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