[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
Citations 0
The Cover
February 12, 2003

La Pia de Tolommei

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(6):667. doi:10.1001/jama.289.6.667

Victorian to the core, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was born in London to an Italian scholar who had been forced into exile because of his political views. A poet as well as a painter, Dante was only one of three Rossetti children who adopted the artistic life. His younger sister was the poet Christina Rossetti, his brother the critic William Michael Rossetti. Not surprisingly, he was a devotee of his namesake, Dante Alighieri. In 1861, with some financial help from John Ruskin, Rossetti published a translation of Dante's Vita Nuova. In La Pia de Tolommei (cover ), his last major painting, he again pays homage to Dante. The painting refers to Canto V of the Purgatorio, where, with Virgil as his guide, Alighieri has emerged from hell and has ascended to the second level of Mount Purgatory. This terrace is populated by the unshriven, chiefly by those who have died suddenly, for example, in war or by murder. Either because of negligence or by indolence they had not confessed their sins in a timely fashion, and thus may not enter heaven. Since they are in purgatory, not hell, however, it is assumed that they repented privately, albeit at the proverbial "last minute"; too good for hell, not good enough for heaven, they must languish between. There Dante meets a beautiful and compassionate woman (the first woman he has met, she is also the only soul so far to have inquired about Dante's well-being, placing his needs before her own.) She begs him thus: