La Pia de Tolomei

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted La Pia de Tolomei at the beginning of his affair with Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris. In this painting, Jane models as La Pia, from Dante Alighieri’s poem the Divine Comedy. La Pia is found by Dante during his travel through Purgatory, in Part II of the epic work. La Pia has died without absolution. She says to Dante “remember me, the one who is Pia;
Siena made me, Maremma undid me:
he knows it, the one who first encircled
my finger with his jewel, when he married me”

The one who “first encircled my finger with his jewel” refers to La Pia’s husband, Nello, who was responsible for her death so that he could marry a Countess. La Pia’s husband imprisoned her in Pietra Castle, which is the scene we see in Rossetti’s painting. Is Rossetti painting Jane as a prisoner of marriage, just as La Pia was a prisoner of the castle? Perhaps Rossetti is projecting his desire to free Jane and rescue her for himself.
I always enjoy the small details that Rossetti includes in most of his works. Often symbolic, he adds imagery that helps add to the tale. Such as the rooks flying in the sky. Rooks bring omens of death, and we should not overlook the fact that rooks play an important role in one of Rossetti’s poems, Sunset Wings:
And now the mustering rooks innumerable
Together sail and soar,
While for the day’s death, like a tolling knell,
Unto the heart they seem to cry, Farewell,
No more, farewell, no more!


Time passes on as La Pia is imprisoned. We see this with the inclusion of a sundial. To pass the time, we see her prayer book, her rosary, and possibly some old love letters.

Most importantly, we see that Jane (as La Pia) lightly fingers her wedding ring, the fair jewel given to her by the husband who trapped and imprisoned her.

Also see Shades of Dante for more on Rossetti’s lifelong passion for Dante Alighieri.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

6 Replies to “La Pia de Tolomei”

  1. I love everything about this painting. I have featured it on my myspace page for a long time. I,too,am struck by the use of rooks and weapons and all the detailed objects in the proximity of Pia (Jane). I absolutely love the Pre-Raphaelites because they abundantly avail themselves of symbols and myths! Thank you for posting this, Stephanie,I was most curious to find out about the imprisonment of Pia.

    1. Yes, I think that all of the symbolism is one of the reasons I am so drawn to Pre-Raphaelite art. It invites the viewer in, allowing them to be absorbed by the world that the artist has created. I enjoy studying the paintings, looking for details that I would have missed upon first glance.

  2. Dear Stephanie

    I know that it is a year later, but I thought you might like to see where Pia was imprisoned in Maremma in Italy.

    I found your site a year ago as I have a long time love of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites… last year my sister and I queued for 4 hours to see the Exhibition in London. Needless to say it was wonderful.

    Kind regards

  3. I have to share this story about this painting:

    I am currently driving across the United States from with my daughter. She is beginning grad school in a few weeks, and we are driving her car from California to New Jersey.
    One of our stops along the nation-spanning Interstate 70 is Salina, Kansas.
    After settling into our hotel next to the Interstate, we drove into the town for dinner.

    After meal of Italian food, I was snapping a picture of the classy Art Deco theatre across the street, when an old woman came up to us and starting bragging about the beauty of the theatre, asking where we were from…she was originally from Laguna Beach, California…and where we were going. This soul, who looked like she had had a pretty rough life, finding out I teach Art History and what Coco will be studying (English Literature at Princeton), she starting speaking in excited tones about her favorite period in English Literature, the 19th century. When she learned how much I admired the architecture of the theatre she shared her favorite art period, the Pre-Raphaelites, which is also my favorite group of painters. ” There’s a book,” she told us with a sparkle in her eye. “in a little bookstore in Baltimore…it’s William Morris’ News of Nowhere. It’s signed by Morris to his daughter.” She got a faraway look. “One day I’m going to get that book.” She smiled broadly, showing a few teeth she still had.
    Then she dropped the bombshell, “You have to go to Lawrence, to the Spencer Art Museum at the University. That’s where La Pia de’ Tolommei by Gabriel Dante Rossetti is.”
    You could have knocked me over with a feather. I love that painting. I teach that painting. I adore Rossetti. And here we would be in the middle of Kansas, tearing down the Interstate, and we would’ve driven right pass it. Thank God for this sweet woman. Tomorrow, we are swinging by and checking out Rossetti. I’m so excited.

  4. Well what a beautiful ‘coincidence’, is this the first time in your life that such an uncanny event has taken place? I think not.
    The PRB seem to bring out the ‘coincidences’ to me also, it was pointed out to me some 25 years ago that my face was the face of one of the most famous PRB paintings, that was a ‘coincidence’, now it has manifested itself and my life into one of the most bizarre pictures that are about to be uncovered. May God Bless You and Yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.