In a tensely dramatic scene inspired by a nineteenth-century British novel, Nydia, a blind flower seller, struggles forward to escape the dark volcanic ash and debris of Mount Vesuvius as it erupts and buries the ancient city of Pompeii. Clutching her staff and cupping hand to ear, she strains for sounds of Glaucus (a nobleman with whom she has fallen desperately in love) and his fiancée Ione. Accustomed to darkness, blind Nydia uses her acute hearing to find the two, leading them to safety at the shore; but in the end, despairing of the impossibility of her love, she drowns herself.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the public was fascinated with such stories of Pompeii's destruction. Rogers (who lived in Italy and based this work on the classical Greek sculpture he studied in museums there) made a small fortune on the more than fifty marble copies of Nydia that were commissioned by admirers and carved by highly skilled Italian craftsmen after the artist's model.
Praised for both his technical skill and sensitive interpretation of the subject, Rogers devised a variety of surfaces for the life-size Nydia -- the girl's face, arms, and breast are smoothed with a soulful translucence while the billowing skirt is cut into thin, dynamic folds. The movement of the drapery, as it wraps Nydia's staff and streams against her body to reveal her young figure, gave the sculpture a dynamism and sensuality that resonated with Victorian viewers. All this, with the detailed tooling of the fallen Corinthian capital, symbol of the volcano's destruction, demonstrated the virtuosity of the conception and carving.
Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii
model 1855, carved 1860
DIMENSIONS: 137.16 cm (54 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Patrons' Permanent Fund
ACCESSION NUMBER: 2000.85.1