A man who has seen a nymph "becomes possessed by nymphs" according to ancient Greek lore. Nymphs were embodiments of the spirit of nature, so there are many kinds—nymphs of rivers and woodlands, streams and mountains. Nereids are nymphs of the sea (specifically the fifty daughters of the old sea god Nereus), and usually are benevolent and playful, taking care with the fate of sailors. Although mortal, they live supernaturally long lives. Among the best-known nereids are Thetis, mother of Achilles, and Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon, but no specific attributes identify this one.
This nereid's head is thrown back with abandon, her lithe body in counterpoint with a sea monster that helps support the weight of the marble. Voluminous twists of fabric cross diagonally over her, contributing dynamic energy to her pose. The marble here is deeply cut, creating dark pockets of shadow that enliven the surface. She is attributed to Giuseppe Mazzuoli, who as a young man worked with Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Rome. Throughout his career of some seventy-five years, Mazzuoli generally worked in the more flamboyant baroque tradition of Bernini.
La Favorita, Resina and/or Palazzo Reale, Portici (Naples). Private collection, France. (Wildenstein & Co., New York); sold June 1949 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945-1951. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: 246, no. 110, repro., as Thetis by School of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 440, repro., as Thetis by School of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 146, as Thetis by School of Bernini.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 130, repro., as Thetis by School of Bernini.
- Middeldorf, Ulrich. Sculptures from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools XIV-XIX Century. London, 1976: 83.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 640, no. 1005, repro., as Thetis by School of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 148, repro.
- Norman Herz, Katherine A. Holbrow and Shelley G. Sturman. "Marble Sculture in the National Gallery of Art: a Provenance Study." In Max Schvoerer, ed. Archéomatériaux: marbres et autres roches: ASMOSIA IV, Bordeaux, France 9-13 october 1995: actes de la IVème Conférence international de l’Association pour l’étude des marbres et autres roches utilizes dans le passé. Talence, 1999: 101-110.