La Pia is the last major painting completed by Rossetti. It portrays a character from the epic 14th-century poem, The Divine Comedy, Purgatory by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (circa 1265-1321). According to the poem, a woman named La Pia married an Italian magistrate who kept her in a castle in the malaria-infested swamps of Maremma where she died under mysterious circumstances. In this painting, Rossetti captures the lonely and contemplative young woman toying with her wedding ring. In the foreground, the sundial suggests the passage of time, while old love letters from her husband underscore La Pia’s marital ties.
Rossetti’s model for painting and many others was Jane Burden Morris (1839-1914), who was married to Rossetti’s fellow artist and good friend, William Morris. Rossetti had a passionate affair with Jane and hoped in vain that she would leave her husband. The subject of a wife imprisoned by her husband carried great personal meaning for Rossetti.