Art History Intro 1
The Nike of Samothrace has become an iconic sculpture from the Hellenistic period. She attracts the company of many in Louvre, Paris, France with her beauty and mystery. However, so much is left unknown about this sculpture which raises more questions than answers. Those who do not have a particular taste for art may wonder what is so appealing about a headless sculpture. This also brings up the question of what is so interesting about this depiction of Nike. Perhaps it is not only the quality of the sculpture or the fact that it is the more famous version of Nike that appeals to people but her symbolic meaning of victory. After all, the Nike was a universal figure in Ancient Greece and the techniques used during the Hellenistic period were known for interacting with one's senses to portray a sense of reality. To understand the figure of Nike, you must understand her role throughout Greece first. Nike was known as the goddess of victory, but she also exemplified speed, strength, and the messenger who would articulate the news of victory. She was a mediator between the gods and humans.1 Nike is the Greek equivalent to who the Romans called Victoria. However, there are no personal tales of Nike. She only appears or is mentioned in the stories of the victories of others such as the Rhodians. Nike's genealogy suggests that she was the daughter of the titan Pallas and Styx, daughter of the ocean, as well as the sibling of Kratos, Zelus, and Bia.2 It is told in Greek mythology that Nike and her siblings were taken to Zeus to assist him with the Titan War. Nike was then deemed Zeus' charioteer which supports the images of Nike in a chariot. Ironically enough, Nike is exactly where the name of our well-known shoe company originated. Therefore, the mythology of Nike has tied into our modern lives without us knowing.
Throughout Ancient Greece, Nike is depicted in multiple forms of art including sculpture, pottery, and even coins. Nike was considered a popular subject in art for the Greeks. A famous depiction of Nike is Nike Untying Her Sandals in the Temple of Athena Nike. This was once part of a temple parapet and is carved from marble. The figure stands approximately 3'6", and it is curved in a unique fashion. Now headless, this figure of Nike (Figure 1) exemplifies the feminine quality of women. Although her body is twisted in an unbalanced way she would have been balanced by her wings being out stretched behind her. The ripples of fabric clinging to her figure as if drenched with liquid like those of the Hellenistic period. However, it is actually from the High Classical Period. In addition, the drapery of the figure maintains an active design with the ripples being carved deep into the marble. Active surfaces, movement, genre scenes, and exaggeration are all characteristics of art from the Hellenistic time period. These are exemplified in the version of Nike found at Samothrace. The Nike of Samothrace, also known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, (Figure 2) has found a home in Paris, France, but her true home remains the island of Samothrace where she was discovered on April 15, 1863. The amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau unearthed the statue, but it was found in fragments of the white marble. Karl Lehman later led an expedition in 1950 where pieces of the right hand were found. These would later be added the museum as well as fragments of the ship. Nike of Samothrace stands perched on the prow of a boat composed of Grey Lartos marble. Standing about 8'1" and carved of Parian marble, the sculpture is thought to celebrate the victory of a naval battle.3 Some believe this battle was won by a Macedonian general. The techniques used in the Hellenistic period continue to add beauty and bewilderment to the statues of Nike. Her clothes cling to her body with the moisture of the sea to expose her curves and areas such as her naval. Details of cascading fabric fall…