Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Pia De' Tolomei (1868–1880)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Pia De' Tolomei (1868-1880)


A variant of this description was originally published at The Rossetti Archive

Scholarly Commentary


Based on the story of the Lady of Siena as told in Dante Alighieri's Purgatorio (V. 130-136), the painting bears within itself an oblique allusion to the relations between Jane Morris, her husband William, and their close friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Jane sat for this portrait of La Pia, who was imprisoned and murdered by her husband in 1295 in a castle in Maremma. Rossetti's passion for Mrs. Morris was at a peak of intensity in 1868.

Textual History: Composition

In 1866 or 1867, Dante Gabriel Rossetti made a draft of his translation of the verse from Dante Alighieri. This copy and a fair copy made at about the same time are in the Duke University Library's Notebook I. Later, in 1880, he fair copied that translation and added to it a prose ekphrasis of the picture, which he completed at that time. The verse was eventually printed on the frame of the picture. Rossetti sent another copy of the translation, along with the original Italian and some notes, in his letter to F. G. Stephens of 2 February 1881. For translation, click here

Production History

Work on the picture began with studies made for the painting in early 1868. What appears the earliest includes Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation of the relevant passage from Dante Alighieri. A slightly later sketch carries Rossetti's prose notes for the picture's details. Mrs. Morris sat for Rossetti between March and July 1868, by which point the picture was fairly well advanced. Two drawings that reflect this state of the work survive, the red and white chalk drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum (1868), and the drawing in colored chalks (1870) located now in the Humanities Research Center at Texas. Abandoned in 1870, the work was resumed in 1880, and Rossetti announced to his mother late in December that it was finished (see Fredeman 1880. 56). He must have begun working on it again in the summer (see his letter to Watts of 11 July 1880: Fredeman 1880. 239.1).

Physical Description

Medium: Oil.

Dimensions: 41 1/2 x 47 1/2 in.

Production Description

Production Date: 1868–80.

Exhibition History: R.A., 1883, no. 319; Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1901, no. 309; Manchester, 1911, no. 210; University of Kansas, Museum of Art, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Circle, 1958; Indianapolis and Huntington Hartford, 1964, no. 79; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Victorian Artists in England, 1965, no. 120.

Patron: F.R. Leyland.

Original Cost: 800 guineas.

Model: Jane Burden Morris.


Current Location: Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

Catalog Number: 56. 31.

Archival History: F.R. Leyland; Leyland Sale, Christie's May 28, 1892 (no. 52); sold to John Bibby for £315; Bibby Sale, Christie's June 3, 1899 (no. 99); sold to Russell Rea for £273; by descent to his son Walter Russell (later Lord Rea of Eskdale); Rea Sale, January 19, 1949, Hollycombe House, Liphook; Leger Galleries.

Works Cited

Fredeman, William E. The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. D. S. Brewer, 2002.

How to Cite this Web Page (MLA format)

McGann, Jerome. “Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Pia De’ Tolomei (1868-1880).” Rossetti Archive Galleries. The COVE: The Central Online Victorian Educator, covecollective.org. [Here, add your last date of access to The COVE].


Associated Place(s)

Part of Group:


  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Image Date: