New York: 1903. Oil on board, measuring 19 x 13.25 inches. Signed “A. I. Keller” in lower right image. Three 2-mm chips to areas of marbling behind figure, a few additional minor chips from framing along edges.
Original illustration by American artist Arthur Keller (1866-1924) for William Dean Howells’s 1903 collection of essays, Heroines of Fiction. In that work, Howells considers the Victorian clergyman Charles Kingsley’s 1853 novel Hypatia, a fictionalized life of the pagan philosopher, set in fourth-century Alexandria. Hypatia was one of the first women to study mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. Murdered by a Christian mob for her outspoken Neoplatonist teachings, she became a symbol for feminists and a martyr for pagans. In Keller’s striking portrait, Hypatia’s open pose and concentration on her manuscript convey classical self-possession, but her pale skin and tousled ringlets reflect Kingsley’s Victorian vision. Howells remarks: “Hypatia is really a young lady of the early eighteen-fifties, of the time when young ladies of her type were crudely called strong-minded. She was a sort of Alexandrian Margaret Fuller.” A source of inspiration across centuries, Hypatia most recently served as the subject of the 2009 Spanish film Agora, in which she struggles to save the Library of Alexandria from religious zealots. A fine illustration of a compelling historical (and fictional) figure.