The Return of the Gods: Exhibition guide: Hylas Surprised by the Naiades

John Gibson, ‘Hylas Surprised by the Naiades’ 1827–?36, exhibited 1837
John Gibson
Hylas Surprised by the Naiades 1827–?36, exhibited 1837

The Greek inscription on the pitcher held by the boy in this sculpture can be translated as ‘beautiful Hylas’. In Greek literature, Hylas was the youthful companion of the hero Heracles (Hercules). As he was fetching water from a spring, the water nymphs, or Naiads, were captivated by his beauty and pulled him into the water, so that he could always live with them. Gibson shows Hylas being seized by two water nymphs; the style and composition strongly recall the work of Canova, whom Gibson greatly admired.