The painting depicts a noblewoman from Siena, Pia de ‘Tolomei, who lived between the end of the 13th and early 14th century and who Dante meets in Purgatory in the fifth canto of the Divine Comedy. She is cleaning herself from her sins and waiting to ascend to Paradise as she tells her sad story of her lonely life and death to Dante.
Many historians have tried to identify the young woman and even if there’s no actual documentation of her history, she is believed to be Pia de’ Tolomei who was killed by her husband Nello Pannocchieschi, lord of Castel di Pietra in Maremma, who wanted to marry another woman named Margherita Aldobrandeschi, Countess of Savoia and Pitigliano.
Others think she may have been Pia Malavolti, unfaithful bride of a Tolomei family member of who asked Pannocchieschi to get rid of his wife, who then was brought in Maremma where she was probably killed..
The legend of Pia was popular in the 19th century when newly unified Italy was rediscovering its cultural history, literature and art. The stories of the Middle Ages were an important part of national identity and the story of Pia was subject for many studies and publications, such as Pia de’ Tolomei, Romantic Legend (1848) by Bartolomeo Sestini or the opera La Pia de’ Tolomei (1836-1837) by Gaetano Donizetti.
The painting enhances the religious meaning rather than the legend of Pia depicting a woman who is immersed in grief and repentance for her sins.
Pia is portrayed hands clasped in prayer and kneeling on a step, while she is leaning against a small balustrade. She is wearing a white dress with a black belt and dark decorated purse. A veil that alludes to her tragic marriage is lying on the balustrade and falling to the ground. She is wearing a small metal crown on her long black hair.
The woman is a prisoner in Castel di Pietra, which can be recognized for its architecture and tower in the background. There’s a figure that looks like a hermit with a hood and long white beard.
Behind the castle you can see a typical landscape of Maremma.
It is not known who commissioned the painting, but it dates back to 1891. The artist dedicated himself to this theme between 1891 and 1893.
There’s a small preparatory study of the painting which shows Viligiardi’s great attention towards the perspective of the scene. The details of the medieval buildings are very precise.
The painting and its frame are in lunette form. The frame is decorated with rosettes and gothic-style motifs that suited well the scene setting. It is made of gilded wood, iron and brass and in the center at the lower part there’s an inscription from the Divine Comedy: “Remember me, the one who is Pia, Siena made me, Maremma unmade me/ Dante/ canto V/ Purgatory”.
The frame was probably designed and made by Viligiardi himself.
Viligiardi was born in Siena in 1869. He began his art studies in 1875 and between 1878 and 1879 he attended the school of sculpture “La Stella” under Giovanni Dupré.
Shortly after this he entered the Accademia di Belle Arti of Siena, where he studied art, ornate painting and architecture under Luigi Mussini, Giorgio Bandini and Giuseppe Partini.
Thanks to this versatile training he worked as a painter, architect, sculptor and decorator. He traveled a lot in Italy and copied many traditional masterpieces of art.
During his early period which lasted until around 1895 Viligiardi won many awards in art contests with paintings of historical and mythological subjects, which were popular at the time. Among them were the Arrest of Conrad of Swabia (1888) and Samson Prisoner (1891). This works got him a four-year grant from the Ministry of Education.
From 1909 he taught decoration and interior design in the Siena High School of Architecture and worked nearly a decade on architectural restorations in Siena. One of his working sites was the palace of the count Guidi Chigi-Saracini.
In 1932 he was elected as a member of the advisory committee for the city of Siena and he realized many projects such as the building renovation of the historic center and the quarter of the artists in Follonica valley.
Viligiardi was very attached to his city. He also worked as an illustrator, for books like Dante in Siena (Siena, Tipografia Lazzeri, 1921) which was published to mark the centenary of Dante and he made the celebratory poster for the Palio of Siena on August 16 in 1898. He designed the costumes for his district, La Tartuca, and wrote essays on “Rassegna d’Arte Senese”.
Some of his most important works were the decoration of the San Zanobi tribune in the Florence cathedral (1905) and the recovery of the medieval works in Chigi-Saracini palace in Siena (1905) where he decorated the interior in 1922. In Rome he worked as an architect and a decorator with Cesare Maccari in the Senate (1882-1888) and between 1926 and 1927 in the church of Sant’Anna. He decorated the platforms in the Orvieto cathedral and the dome of Loreto Sanctuary (1888-1895). In Naples he worked in the villa of Prince d’Ambro (1883-1884).
His most important religious works were the Temptation of St. Catherine (International Exhibition of Rome, 1904) and the marble bust of the saint for the Pincio in Rome (1928).
He died in Alessandria in 1936.
Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation was established on August 28, 1995 with the conferment of banking activity and it is the oldest bank in the world still operating.
The headquarters is in Palazzo Sansedoni of Piazza del Campo, Siena, and the main mission is to carry out philanthropic activities in cultural, artistic and environmental sectors.
The foundation owns and preserves two collections: the collection of Artworks and Malandrini collection of photographs. Both collections can be found on digital version online.
The artwork collection includes 57 pieces representing prestigious examples of Sienese art, some of which have been lost for centuries. A special committee of scholars and art historians was set up to identify the works of Sienese school between the 13th and 18th century. Among the artworks there are Segna di Bonaventura’s Madonna with Child Enthroned, St. Bartholomew, St. Ansanus and a Donor, Maestro dell’Osservanza’s Santa Lucia, Brescianino’s Madonna with Child and Little St. John, Ventura Salimbeni’s Santa Cecilia, Francesco Vanni’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Rutilio Manetti’s St. Jerome in Penitence and Bernardo Mei’s Holy Family with Magdalene.
The Malandri collection was named after the founder, photographer Ferruccio Malandrini, and it was established in 1975. The collection includes historical photographs from Siena territory, taken between 1853 and 1950. There are 135 units in the collection. The units consist of different themes, origins and technical and historical characteristics and in total they include 11,389 photographs.