OIL PAINTING: Hypatia, 1885
The painting was exhibited accompanied by an excerpt from Charles Kingsley's historical novel Hypatia, or New Foes with an Old Face (1853), set among the conflicts between rival religious sects in fifth-century AD Alexandria, a time when the Roman Empire was collapsing. Mitchell depicts the moment when the pagan philosopher Hypatia, stripped and dragged by her murderers - a mob of fanatical monks - through the nave of the church up to the altar
"rose for one moment to her full height, naked, snow-white against the dusky mass around -shame and indignation in those wide clear eyes, but not a stain of fear. With one hand she clasped her golden locks around her; the other long white arm was stretched upward towards the great still Christ, appealing - and who dare say, in vain? - from man to God" (quotation from ch.XXIX). The full-length figure of Hypatia, in an unusually elastic and elongated pose, is framed and illuminated by the surrounding architecture, her dignified yet exposed body contrasting with the Christian denial of the flesh symbolized by the rigid cold mosaics (the fragment of Christ amalgamated from mosaics at S. Vitale and S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna).
So striking was the treatment of the figure by the artist that it was seized upon as an opportunity for sculptural interpretation, and in the 1890 Williamson and Richard Belt each produced a life-sized marble Hypatia replicating the pose and attitude made famous by Mitchell.