For Students

Happy Birthday Nydia!

This year marks 150 years since Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii by Randolph Rogers was given to the University. The first significant original work of art to enter UMMA's collections, Nydia from the beginning has attracted a wide variety of people into her orbit. Her arrival in Ann Arbor in 1862 was the result of funds raised by a group of university and community members who called themselves the Randolph Rogers Art Association--a precursor to the Ann Arbor Art Center. Rogers said of her "the subject is so beautiful, and the character of the blind flower girl so pure, that all who have a heart must feel interested in her." 1 Seen immediately upon entering the Museum's historic wing, Nydia was written into being in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), set at the dramatic moment in 79 ACE when Vesuvius erupted and buried the Roman city of Pompeii under nine feet of ash in eight hours. The story of Pompeii has sparked the imagination of western artists for nearly 300 years. Still today, children are intrigued by the story of Pompeii and the way sculptures are made and adults are drawn to the tragedy of her story as well as to her Victorian genesis.

Nydia's historical, literary, and artistic pedigree make her a rich opportunity for teaching and a good case study for the uses to which we put UMMA collections. Nydia is featured in school and adult tours, UM class visits, and just last January, as part of a program organized by UM's Context for Classics program. In that program, entitled "Objects as Texts," Context for Classics invited five scholars and artists from different disciplines-English, Art and Design, Classical Studies, Creative Writing, and Comparative Literature-to explore questions raised today by the figure of Nydia. Scholars have also referenced Nydia to explore issues of artistic patronage and consumption by women in the nineteenth century.

1 Hiram W. Woodward, Jr, Eighty Works in the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (Ann Arbor, MI: UMMA, 1979), 13.

2 Lauren Keach Lessing, "'So Blessed Now that Accustomed Darkness': Randolph Rogers's Nydia the Blind Girl of Pompeii and the Female Gaze," The University of Michigan Museums of Art and Archaeology Bulletin XIII (2000-01): 53-73.