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Art in Tuscany

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de' Tolomei


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de' Tolomei (1868–1880) (model: Jane Morris), Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA


Toacana ] Galleria di immagini  

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de' Tolomei (1868–1880)


Podere Santa Pia was named after Pia de' Tolomei, a woman with an intriguing story. According to some legends, the beautiful Pia di Tolomei, the sorrowful wife of Nello d'Inghiramo de Pannocchieschi, crossed the Ponte della Pia to go into exile in Maremma, at Castello della Pietra. There her husband ordered her execution so he could marry his mistress Margherita Aldobrandeschi, Contessa of Sovana and Pitigliano.
Dante Alighieri wrote about this legend (Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, Canto V).
Pia de' Tolomei asks for Dante's prayers when he encounters her waiting to enter Purgatory among souls who died suddenly and unprepared. "Son Pia, Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma." ("I am Pia. Siena made me; Maremma unmade me.") Purg. V, 130–136.


“Deh, quando tu sarai tornato al mondo,
    e riposato della lunga via,”
    seguitò il terzo spirito al secondo,
“ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
    Siena mi fe’, disfecemi Maremma:
    salsi colui che innanellata, pria
disposando, m’avea con la sua gemma.”


“O pray, when you return to the world,
and are rested from your long journey,”
followed the third spirit after the second,
“remember me, who am La Pia.
Siena made me, Maremma unmade me:
this is known to him who after due engagement
wedded me with his ring.”


Pia de' Tolomei in art

Pia's story is the theme of an opera by Donizetti.
Pia de' Tolomei is an oil painting on canvas by English artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painted around 1868 and currently housed at the Spencer Museum of Art, on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de' Tolomei

History of the painting

This work was painted at the start of Rossetti's affair with Jane Morris, who modelled for the picture. As he was to do with Beata Beatrix (1870), Rossetti chose a tale by Dante Aligheri (from Purgatorio) to illustrate his love for his model. The story tells of a woman whose husband imprisoned and later poisoned her:[3] Rossetti wanted the world to believe the fantasy with which he was deluding himself - that William Morris kept Jane against her will. He continued this theme, as shown in Proserpine.[4]

Rossetti not only drew Jane exhaustively, he also choreographed photographic sessions of her and used the photographs as preliminary sketches for drawings. Amongst other representations of her, Rossetti depicts Jane as Proserpine, Queen Guinevere and Desdemona - all of whom were at the mercy of men.[5]

Jane appears disproportionately large in most of Rossetti's pictures. The background is immaterial as long as the viewer focuses on the beauty of her face. In Pia de' Tolomei her elongated neck seems almost dislocated, and the whiteness of her skin shines out, defying the viewer to pay attention to any other aspects of the painting. Miller's hair colour is misrepresented in the painting. Her natural colour was dark brown, yet Rossetti paints it with an auburn tinge - closer to Lizzie Siddal's hair colour than Miller's. Also, her hands are twisted and intertwined in a peculiar way.[6]


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de' Tolomei (1868–1880)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de' Tolomei (detail) (model: Jane Morris), Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas


'In La Pia de’ Tolommei, Rossetti creates a character and scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy through the use of symbols. Here, La Pia sits upon the ramparts of the castle. The surrounding foliage alludes to her frustrating and miserable situation. The climbing fig tree framing her face symbolizes fruitfulness, and the sprigs of ivy on lower right corner represent clinging memory or fidelity in marriage. She plays with her wedding ring ("fair jewel") that symbolizes how a once joyous event now represents her unfortunate predicament. The sundial in the lower left corner is a reminder of the passing of time, or the coming of death, and the wheel of fortune motif on it refers to life changes. The rosary lying on an open prayer book refers to her name La Pia, which translates as "The Pious." Old love letters from her husband also symbolize the passing of time. The bundle of lances on the ground serves as a threatening barrier both compositionally and symbolically to the landscape below and her potential freedom. The red and pink banner of her husband draped across them reminds us of her captivity and that her once-beloved husband is now her jailer. Black crows flying above are thought to symbolize verse five of Rossetti’s poem "Sunset Wings" from 1871, about love that changes, never to be relived. The cloudy sky and gray barren landscape create a grim setting to this sad tale. La Pia’s contemplative expression is one of melancholy and introspection.

Rossetti often designed the frames to enhance the subject matter. On the frame for La Pia, he engraved the passage from the poem in both Italian and English in which La Pia’s spirit speaks to Dante:

"Remember me who am La Pia- me
From Siena, sprung and by Maremma dead.
This in his inmost heart well knoweth he
With whose fair jewel I was ringed and wed."

The model for this painting is Jane Morris, wife of William Morris, a fellow artist and good friend of Rossetti. This is especially meaningful because Rossetti was in love with Jane Morris. He uses this passage from Purgatory to express his own unhappy romantic experiences with a woman who is married to, and in a sense, prisoner of a man she does not love.'[2]



Castel di Pietro in Gavorrano, where Pia de Tolomei was pushed to her death

The historical bridge Ponte della Pia is situated in the Montagnola Senese area, near the village of Borgo di Rosia, along the road leading from Siena to Massa Marittima. According to popular legends, this is where the ghost of Pia dei Tolomei appears to show her sorrow and her pain of love. The bridge has Roman origins but was rebuilt in the Middle Ages. If you follow the Rosia creek, on the left you can admire the Eremo di Santa Lucia (Rosia) and the Castello di Montarrenti. A long itinerary (CAI Sentiero n° 100) connects Ponte della Pia with Monteriggioni.

Trekking in Monteriggioni Ponte della Pia - Molli - Monte Maggio  - Monteriggioni


Ponte della Pia, Rosia

Il Ponte della Pia

[1] Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.
Rossetti's art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. His early poetry was influenced by John Keats. His later poetry was characterised by the complex interlinking of thought and feeling, especially in his sonnet sequence The House of Life. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti's work; he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures, spanning from The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and Astarte Syriaca (1877), while also creating art to illustrate poems such as Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, his sister and celebrated poet.
Rossetti's personal life was closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth, and Jane Morris.
[2] Narrative Devices in Art | www.spencerart.ku
[3] Cf. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, "Purgatorio", Canto V, vv.130-136 "Pia de' Tolomei".
[4] J. Treuherz, E. Prettejohn, and E. Becker. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. London: Thames & Hudson (2003).
[5] V. Surtees. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Vol.I, Oxford: Clarendon Press (1971).
[7] O. Doughty, A Victorian Romantic: Dante Gabriel Rossetti London: Frederick Muller (1949).

Lapide in Siena

In Siena there are 8 marble slabs, with quotations taken from the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. One is located in Vicolo della Torre, on the right side of Palazzo Tolomei. Here, the great poet refers to Pia de 'Tolomei.

« Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;

Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma »

(Purgatorio V, vv. 133-134)

Pia tolomei.jpg

Lapide or marble slab in Vicolo della Torre, on the right side of Palazzo Tolomei in Siena



This page uses material from the Wikipedia articles Pia de 'Tolomei and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.