"Who is Nydia? Empowered woman or slave?"—Thayer Tolles, curator
Randolph Rogers (American, 1825–1892). Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, 1853–54; carved 1859. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of James, Douglas, 1899 (99.7.2). Learn more about this object.
How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.
Thayer Tolles: In this sculpture, the artist is responding very literally to a novel that was published in 1834 called The Last Days of Pompeii. You have to think of it almost like the Harry Potter of its time; it was something that was known by all. Nydia, who is a slave, is in love with a Roman named Glaucus. Nydia worked for Ione, who was Glaucus's lover but also loved Glaucus. So, this is really a classic love triangle.
The moment depicted is in the wake of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and Nydia is shown wending her way through the rubble-strewn streets of Pompeii. She's blind, as her closed eyelids insinuate. She's listening for the voices of Glaucus and Ione because she is trying to lead them to the harbor of Pompeii, where they will get on a ship and sail away.
There are all sorts of coded references to classical statuary in this piece that would be known to a nineteenth-century viewer. The tunic is slipped down over her shoulder, exposing her right breast, a reference to her vulnerability. That exposed breast may also reference statues of from antiquity of Amazon women, who were seen as very strong and powerful. Who is Nydia? Empowered woman or slave? Or, in the end, a tragic figure?