Nello with Pia
marble, cm 84
Pitti Palace, Imperial and Royal Apartments
inv. Oggetti d'Arte Pitti 1911 n. 725
Meanwhile her lord, head bent
paces swiftly here and there, up and down;
He bangs his forehead and then stops,
staring into her eyes with a gaze that looks as if he’s made of stone,
Like a man not used to committing a crime, preparing,
with his mind made up, to commit a new misdeed.
But by now the night, with the sun hidden in its cloak,
calls everyone, except him, to rest.
At the table, silent and tormented;
the woman sits opposite him, and stares
not at the food but into his eyes, having
noted the torment he is failing to hide; after a long spell
of silence, with her pretty voice
she asked him: - Husband, what’s wrong? –
Nothing, he answered and a bitter smile
flickered on his mouth, but his face was not smiling.
But then the servant cleared the table
and then, left alone behind closed doors,
she wrapped her white arms around his neck
as she was accustomed to doing:
Then she took his hand in hers,
and with a naive and tender look
she squeezed it and hoped he would return the gesture, in vain;
as her hand was that of a dead body.
(Bartolomeo Sestini, Pia de’ Tolomei 1822)
Pio Fedi portrays the moment when Pia affectionately asks her husband to tell her the reason for his dark mood. The sculptor’s attention to the details of her costume was the result of his careful studies on the art of the past, often used as a model and reinterpreted with a special focus on the naturalness of the gestures and the effectiveness of the expressions, and of an accurate modelling skill gained during his academic training. In fact, here, the attention paid to the natural element provides a faithful representation of the mood of the scene, in its most subtle psychological nuances.
Already in 1846, the Grand Duke Leopoldo II had commissioned Pio Fedi to sculpt a group depicting Nello della Pietra and Pia de’ Tolomei: the work had been extremely well received and the Grand Duke then requested a smaller version in marble. The subject then became very popular and was replicated in many editions and variants. The small group kept in the Royal Apartments was presented in 1861 at the Italian Exposition in Florence and was purchased by the king of Italy “for his personal gallery”, the private apartments of Victor Emanuel II in the Palazzina della Meridiana of Palazzo Pitti. In 1865, the year of Dante’s centenary, Florence became the Capital City of Italy, but for a few decades, Dante had already been one of the National Glories celebrated as an example of virtue and high intellect, the strong roots of the national identity in the age of the Risorgimento.