Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Pia de’ Tolomei, c. 1868, oil on canvas, 41.5” x 47.5” Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas, Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Artwork in the Public Domain.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: 19th-Century Bad Boy

Paige Guerra, a student at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX, wrote this post.

In 1848, three art students in London took it upon themselves to rebel against what the “frivolous” Royal Academy was teaching and sought to take art back to the time before Raphael’s influence “corrupted” everything.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood took their cause seriously with secret meetings, a periodical and the then-enigmatic signature of PRB on their work.

One of the founding members of the PRB, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painted La Pia de’ Tolomei, which shows a woman (La Pia, or the Pious One) sitting atop a castle vacantly staring into space as greenery and various objects swirl around her.  Rossetti took the subject about a woman imprisoned by her husband from Dante Aligheri’s Purgatorio to illustrate the love he had for the model.

Rossetti was having an affair with the model for La Pia de’ Tolomei, Jane Morris, who was the wife of the artist William Morris. In the image, Rossetti included various symbols alluding to uncertainty and unfaithfulness in marriage such as the cramped composition, crumpled love letters and the absent-minded, yet guilty twiddling of the wedding ring.