At various instances in the novel, the viewer’s appreciation of art comes to represent the character depicted. When Isabel first arrives at Gardencourt, for example, she asks Ralph to show her the gallery and demonstrates her desire for knowledge and experience. He is also impressed by her natural taste and opinion.
This stands in relief to Osmond. His ‘fine’ taste is dominated by the desire to be superior to others. His love of art is confined to tradition and is limited by the opinion of those around him as he attempts to be of the higher standing. In addition, his bid to appear indifferent to the world around him is shown to be a lie as he clings to the desire to be the envy of others.
In Chapter Thirty Four, Ralph tells Isabel tells that she is the last person he expected to be caught and ‘put into a cage’. He is referring to her recent engagement to Osmond and his dislike of this man certainly exacerbates his feelings about her capture. Nevertheless, Ralph had hoped that Isabel’s increased inheritance would allow her the freedom that other women have not had. The fortune should have meant that she could remain independent (and single) as she would not be obliged to marry for money.
Through this metaphor of the cage, the concept of marriage is criticized as a form of entrapment, particularly for women, and is one to be avoided if possible. The unhappy marriage that follows Isabel’s engagement emphasizes this point all the more.
Rosier compares the Osmond home in Rome to a ‘domestic fortress’ and this proves to be insightful in terms of symbolic representations. It is in this place that Osmond attempts to demonstrate his power over his wife and daughter and it comes to stand, therefore, for the disastrous marriage that suffocates Isabel.
The Portrait of a Lady: Metaphor Analysis