"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Monday, April 27, 2020


The Blind Girl of Pompeii

This statue of Nydia, The Blind Girl of Pompeii modeled in 1855 and carved in 1860 by Randolph Rodgers stands in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Frank Kelly wrote in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation in 2000 that:
Among the most memorable characters in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's hugely popular novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) is Nydia, a blind flower seller. In love with the noble-born Glaucus, who is engaged to Ione, Nydia knows the hopelessness of her position and endures her suffering with quiet courage. On the fateful day in A.D. 79 when Vesuvius erupts and buries Pompeii, Nydia attempts to lead Glaucus and Ione to safety through the darkness caused by the falling ash. In the crush of the fleeing crowds, the three become separated, and Nydia desperately seeks to find the others. As Bulwer-Lytton wrote:
 . . . it occurred to Nydia, that as it had been resolved to seek the seashore for escape, her most probable chance of rejoining her companions would be to persevere in that direction. Guiding her steps, then, by the staff which she always carried, she continued, with incredible dexterity, to avoid the masses that encumbered her path—to thread the streets—and unerringly (so blessed was that accustomed darkness, so afflicting in ordinary life) to take the nearest direction to the sea-side. Poor girl! her courage was beautiful to behold! and Fate seemed to favor one so helpless. The boiling torrents touched her not . . . but spared that frail form . . . Weak, exposed, yet fearless, supported by but one wish, she was the very emblem of Psyche in her wanderings . . . of Hope, walking through the Valley of the Shadow; a very emblem of the Soul itself—alone but comforted, amid the dangers and snares of life. 
Nydia ultimately does rejoin and save Glaucus and Ione, but realizing that her love will never be fulfilled, drowns herself in despair. Randolph Rogers was one of the most gifted of the many American sculptors who lived and worked in Italy during the nineteenth century. Like other neoclassical sculptors of the day, he sought subjects that would allow him to demonstrate an accomplished handling of the human form and technical understanding of the medium of marble, but which would also convey a strong moral message. Just a decade earlier Hiram Powers had gained fame and fortune with his Greek Slave (1843), skillfully blending the allure of a full-length female nude with a narrative text that stressed her chasteness and piety. With Nydia, Rogers followed a similar path, for although she is clothed, those familiar with the story would have delighted in the mix of sensual longing and doomed love. Furthermore, unlike Powers' Greek Slave, who stands motionless, Rogers' Nydia is dramatically animated. She is shown hurrying, hand to ear, listening for directional clues, as her drapery streams around her body and flutters behind her. In a particularly beautiful passage, Rogers arranged the clothing folded around her staff and cascading down below it. At her side a fallen Corinthian capital reminds the viewer of the death and destruction that surrounds her as she flees.
Nydia was a great success for Rogers, achieving a popularity rivaled by few contemporary sculptures and ultimately earning him more than $70,000. In accord with accepted practice, Rogers first completed a full-size plaster model, which then served as the basis for marble versions that were cut and finely polished by skilled Italian masons. Smaller examples, measuring only 36 inches, and much less costly, were also made in substantial numbers, spreading the sculpture's fame far and wide. Full-scale versions such as this are far less common, and rank with Powers' Greek Slave and William Wetmore Story's Cleopatra as key works of American nineteenth-century sculpture. -- NGA

The NGA has this photo of Nydia:

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has another version of Rogers' Nydia modeled in 1853-54.

Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii
Nydia, the blind flower seller, was a popular character from the 1834 novel Last Days of Pompeii by English playwright and novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Rogers depicted her wandering through the wreckage of Pompeii as the erupting volcano Mount Vesuvius destroys the city. Her staff and acute sense of hearing guide her around the destruction. Nydia, a slave, listens intently for the voice of her aristocratic master with whom she has fallen in love. Randolph Rogers's classically inspired immediately became popular with the public, resulting in more than fifty commissions for marble replicas. -- SAAM
This statue was so popular in the 19th century that it appears almost everywhere.  The Metropolitan Museum in New York has one and so does Harvard and Princeton, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment