A chalk drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which was purchased for just £75 in a second-hand bookshop, is getting ready be hung on display in all of its glory at the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.
According to the Shropshire Star, in 1868, Rossetti used model Alexa Wilding for this particular work of art, with Wilding depicting the character of Pia de’ Tolomei. Unfortunately for Pia, her husband, Nello d’Inghiramo de Pannocchieschi, ordered her to be executed so that he would be free to marry his mistress at the time, who was the Contessa of Sovana and Pitigliano.
Dante Alighieri placed Pia de’ Tolomei in his book, Purgatorio, in Canto V with Pia asking for prayers after beginning her slow wait here along with the many others who had died suddenly. As Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an avowed adorer of Alighieri, it makes sense that he chose to portray this character in his painting, which is called Ricorditi Di Me, Che Son La Pia.
When Rossetti eventually completed the painting in 1881 that this drawing was based upon, he had used Jane Morris as the model this time around. The finished painting is now hanging in the Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas. Yet the original chalk drawing that this was based on was fortunately picked up by Sir Ivor Batchelor in 1956 and kept safe, as Batchelor wrote in an essay.
“It was in the tiny second-hand bookshop of Robert Aitken in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, in the years immediately after World War Two that I found drawings and prints which were within our miniscule budget and which were often of real quality. Aitken was a dealer of exceptional knowledge and discrimination. It was a red letter day in 1956 when off the floor in Aitken’s shop, with a windfall of royalties from a book, we bought for £75 Rossetti’s very fine and very large drawing for La Pia.”
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Curators working at the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge have discovered a note by Rossetti on the back of the drawing which gives precise instructions for how it should be cared for, with the message reading, “This drawing not being ‘set’ it will require the greatest care if ever removed from its frame.”
As the museum’s Ms. Ward has noted, “It’s quite nice that he put that little warning note.”
The Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing will be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum from December 4, 2018 until March 3, 2018, and will be part of an exhibition called “Collecting And Giving: Highlights From The Sir Ivor And Lady Batchelor Bequest.”