Hylas and Nymphs (perspective view)
Marble, glass, terracotta.
Late 3rd — early 4th cent. CE.
Inv. No. E. 1914.Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage MuseumPhoto by Sergey Sosnovskiy

Hylas and Nymphs (perspective view).

Marble, glass, terracotta.
Late 3rd — early 4th cent. CE.
Inv. No. E. 1914.

Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
(Санкт-Петербург, Государственный Эрмитаж).

Found in 1853 near Rome, close of Baths of Plotina, the wife of emperor Trajan. Acquired for the Hermitage at the request of Nicholas I in 1856. Strongly restored.
The subject was borrowed from the Greek story about the Argonauts. Hylas, Heracles favorite, who traveled with the Argonauts on their way to Colchis, was raped by nymphs of the spring charmed with his beauty, and then drowned.

Museum label

The Rape of Hylas.

“Between Rome and Albano near the Baths of Plotina, the wife of Trajan,” a mosaic was found in 1853 representing the Rape of Hylas by the Water-nymphs (Pl. 27, Fig. 1)198, a subject which was charmingly treated by Theocritus. The scene is being enacted against rocks impressionistically rendered in red and blue and green. Two nymphs sitting on rocks at each side of the pool are augmenting its waters with the contents of their jars. Blue water pours from red vases decorated with yellow. Upon their heads they wear close-fitting caps, from which rise sedges of green like those growing beside the pool. One cap has the added adornment of reddish flowers. Behind their heads bluish-gray nimbi appear. Their green mantles are draped so as to conceal little of their bodies. Emerging from behind a rock, Hylas, nude except for a blue mantle slung over one shoulder, his golden hair disheveled, has surprised them at their task. Shadows in contrasting colors add interest to the drapery. Near the right-hand nymph, a head appears from behind a rock; it may belong to a third nymph deprived of her crown of reeds and her nimbus by a careless restoration. The free use of glass adds brilliancy to the coloring. Perspective has been handled with considerable skill in the smaller scale of the figure in the background; atmosphere also, in the diminishing intensity of the coloring. A scale pattern in black and red and gray with its scales drawn for a tridimensional effect encloses the lunette of which this picture forms the decoration. Mme. Korsunska upon stylistic grounds feels so strongly its affinities with the fourth Pompeian style that she would even have assumed a re-use of an older mosaic if she had been convinced that the identification of the site in question as the “Baths of Plotina” was established. Her discriminating eye sees a difference in the treatment of the body of the nymph at the left, which causes her to ascribe it to a later period than the rest. It would seem to me that Ippel’s theory might give a clearer clue to the dating.199 A tracing or outline drawing of a Hellenistic painting had been cut into smaller pieces, which were allotted to mosaicists of varying ability. Some copy the characteristics of the prototype more closely that the others, but the one who renders the nymph at the left in graduated contour lines rather than more realistic modeling betrays the age of the mosaic. The picture shows the divergence of color due to such a system of composition as well as the errors of the person who put the mosaic together. The awkward placing of a tree-trunk behind the nymph at the right is a case in point. This is merely a suggestion. It would be presumptuous to go into detail without having access to the mosaic itself. Tridimensional treatment such as occurs in the border reappears towards the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century. The subject matter is not particularly pleasing to modern taste. There is said to be a use of terra-cotta tesserae and an excessive employment of glass. Considerable difference appears between the size of the tesserae in the figures (0.5—0.7 cm.) and those in the field (1—1.1 cm.), which were doubtless laid after the figures were in place. The mosaic, though fairly large (240 cm. × 70 cm.), was transported to the Hermitage in Leningrad.

198S. Korsunska, Röm. Mitt., XLV, 1930, 166—171 with pl. 52.

199Ippel, Röm. Mitt. XLV, 1930, 80—110.

Marion E. Blake
(сс) 2018. Photo: Sergey Sosnovskiy (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Text: museum label.
Description (2): Marion E. Blake. Mosaics of the late Empire in Rome and vicinity, in: Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, vol. 17, New York, 1940, pp. 110—111, pl. 27.
Keywords: μωσαϊκό mosaic mosaics mosaica mosaici mosaik mosaïque ελληνική μυθολογία mythologia graeca greek mythology mitologia greca griechische mythologie grecque νύμφη nymphe νύμφες nympha nymph nymphs ninfa ninfe nymphes ρώμη rome roman roma romano rom römisches romaine ῞υλας ύλας hylas hulas ila marble marmo marmor marbre μάρμαρο terracotta terrakotta terre cuite smalt smalte and inv no e. 1914