First Published 1845, in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.

- Title is Latin for ‘Painter Unknown’ – a phrase given to an artist who does not become famous in his or her lifetime, or whose style is not distinctive enough to be identifiable.
- It has been suggested that when Browning wrote this monologue, he was thinking of the painter Fra Bartolommeo; if we accept this identification then the ‘youth’ in line 1 would be Raphael.
- Monologue’s speaker is a shy painter who has deliberately avoided fame; he has continued with an idealised style of painting rather than resort to the new and bolder style painters who were working at the same time as him. There is a direct comparison between the older painter (the speaker) and the ‘youth’ who is living the life of a ‘celebrity’.
- There are many that argue that Browning is portraying a painter refusing to fulfil his talents (perhaps linking it to Browning’s own life)
- Dramatic Irony in the structure – the painter is revealing why he chose not to paint in this style yet at the same time we feel judgemental to the speaker.
Points for consideration
- The speaker provides three reasons why he was able to be as successful as the youth – he had the talent, he had the dream and nothing in his life stopped him for succeeding. Can you find quotes for each of these sections?
- What does Browning say about art critics, or even the general public (lines 46-60)? Why might Browning have a personal view on the critical perception of the public (think about Browning’s fame when he was alive...)?
- What is the painter’s fear (‘they moulder on the damp wall’s travertine’)? Why might this speaker, again, be echoing a Browning thought?
- The poem finishes with three rhetorical questions – what is the effect of this on the reader?
- How does the tone of this dramatic monologue compare with the Bishop and the Soliloquy?
- We are presented with a ‘failed’ artist (who still paints beautiful pictures)... what do you think Browning is saying about ‘fame’?
Poems for Comparison
- The Bishop (monologue, tone)
- Toccata of Galuppi’s (frivolous nature of the public, materialistic judgement)
- Love among the ruins (Love endures the materialistic state – here his Art is fading due to his fear of the judgemental public).
Up at a Villa (Materialistic values of the speaker could be compared to the public perception)

The Pictor's speech "both describes and reenacts his abortive career" George Bornstein

It is ironic but natural that there is lively critical interest in who the speaker in the poem could be. One likely suggestion is Fra Bartolommeo. This is one of his disintegrating frescoes, which lives up to the idea in the poem that the paintings would "moulder" and "die" (ll. 67 & 9).

The Last Judgement - c.1499-1500

The painter in the poem expresses his artwork on outside walls. Here is a modern example of a mural by Banksy. It is worth considering how this sort of artwork is always transient because it is exposed to the elements.

Banksy mural in Islington
Banksy mural in Islington