During the ongoing hostilities between Pisa and Genoa in 13th century Italy, Count Ugolino allegedly betrayed the archbishop of Pisa, who then betrayed him to the mob, resulting in his being locked in a tower with his two sons and two grandsons, and left to die of starvation. According to Dante, Ugolino was forced to eat the dead bodies of his children, though this has not been substantiated by modern forensic investigation. On his tour of Hell, guided by the poet Virgil, Dante meets Ugolino and the archbishop in the eighth circle, reserved for those guilty of betraying kith and kin. They are trapped together in ice, Ugolino eternally torturing the archbishop by gnawing at his neck, presumably from eternal insatiable hunger.
The painting is by William Blake.