The Winged Victory of Samothrace

One of the most majestic sculptures ever created is the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  This is truly one of my favorite works of art and I was fortunate enough to have recently seen it when I visited the Louvre while in Paris.

Though the figure is missing both its head and arms it has long been considered to be one of the most moving and inspirational works in the world.

Perhaps the fact that the sculpture is missing key pieces only adds to the Romantic nature of the ancient work, giving it more of a sense of mystery.  The motion of both the wings and the dress billowing in the wind give the work an awe-inspiring element.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, 200-190 BC, marble,  Louvre, Paris

It was discovered in 1863 by French archaeologist, Charles Champoiseau and within 20 years was brought to the Louvre museum in Paris.  It was found on the Greek island of Samothrace, and is thought to have been created around 200-190 BC. The dating is uncertain but the work has many of the characteristics attributed to Hellenism, the period after Alexander the Great ruled. Alexander's military campaign brought Greek influences east and eastern artistic influences to Greece. Some of the hallmarks of the Hellenistic style include art that is dramatic, theatrical and emotional.  Sculptural poses are typically filled with movement, the figures created showed a wide range of real people rather than just focusing on the idealized beauty of the earlier Greek Classical age.

The Winged Victory, or Nike, was created to stand on the prow of a ship, also sculpted in marble.  The Nike is in an off-white parian marble and the ship in a darker gray lartos marble which came from Rhodes.  The Nike herself is just over 8 feet tall and her place on the ship's prow adds to the height of the work.

In Greek and Roman mythology, the Nike was the Goddess of victory, she was shown as being a winged figure who would fly down from Mount Olympus.  While the Winged Victory of Samothrace is the most well-known depiction, as well as being the largest, many smaller scale figurines and statues of Nike were sculpted in the ancient world.  The main characteristics of the goddess were wings and usually a sense of landing or alighting.

This inspirational work is thought to have commemorated a naval victory, though there are a few theories on which navy and which battle.  One thought was that since the base is from marble found in Rhodes and their army was renowned, it was a Rhodian naval victory. Another theory is that it was related to a Macedonian victory since stylistically it was closer to Macedonian art.

Rather than being in one of the many art galleries in the museum, the Winged Victory sits at the top of a large staircase which provides a perfect vantage point from which to view it.  It is positioned just outside of the Grand Gallery which houses all the Italian Renaissance paintings.  The visitor's view of the work as they climb the staircase only adds to the majestic feeling of the sculpture.

While it is now possible to walk around the sculpture and see it from all sides, it was meant to sit in a niche carved into a hillside which overlooked a temple complex known as the Sanctuary for the Great Gods, and was possibly meant to be seen from one side since the left side is more polished than the right.  Emory University  has done extensive research and excavations of the site at Samothrace including recreating what the Sanctuary would have looked like and how the Winged Victory would have originally been seen. 

During my visit I took several photos to post on my blog, but it is hard to capture the true beauty and monumentality of this work in a photograph. 

The statue has recently been unveiled after a year long conservation process by the museum.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has inspired countless artists and visitors to the Louvre, much as it must have inspired those who saw it when it was first created in the 2nd century AD.

No comments:

Post a Comment