Winged Victory of Samothrace

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace or The Winged Nike
Victoire de Samothrace - vue de trois-quart gauche, gros plan de la statue (2).JPG
Yearc. 200–190 BC [1]
Type Parian marble
Dimensions244 cm(96 in)
Location Louvre, Paris

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, [2] (Greek: Νίκη της Σαμοθράκης Niki tis Samothrakis) is a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike (the Greek goddess of victory), that was created in about the 2nd century BC. Since 1884, it has been prominently displayed at the Louvre and is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world. H.W. Janson described it as "the greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture", [1] and it is one of a small number of major Hellenistic statues surviving in the original, rather than Roman copies.


Date and context

The context of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, discovered in 1863, is controversial, with proposals ranging from the Battle of Salamis in 306 BC to the Battle of Actium in 31 BC as the event being celebrated. Datings based on stylistic evaluation have been equally variable, ranging across the same three centuries, but perhaps tending to an earlier date. [3] For much of the 20th century, the prevailing theory, based on the works of Hermann Thiersch and Karl Lehmann, considered it a Rhodian monument dedicated following the victories at Side and Myonessos in 190 BC, and suggested that it might have been carved by the Rhodian sculptor Pythocritus. [4] However, by the mid-2010s, the reconstructions of the monument proposed by Lehmann have been shown to be false (the remains of the surrounding space that housed the Victory belong to the Roman period), and the question of why the statue was dedicated on Samothrace, which at the time was dominated by the Greek Kingdom of Macedonia, remains unanswered. [5]


The statue is 244 centimetres (8.01 ft) high. [6] It was created not only to honour the goddess, Nike, but probably also to commemorate a naval action. It conveys a sense of action and triumph as well as portraying artful flowing drapery, as though the goddess were descending to alight upon the prow of a ship.

Modern excavations suggest that the Victory occupied a niche above a theater and also suggest it accompanied an altar that was within view of the ship monument of Demetrius I Poliorcetes (337–283 BC). Rendered in grey and white Thasian and Parian marble, the figure originally formed part of the Samothrace temple complex dedicated to the Great gods, Megaloi Theoi. It stood on a rostral pedestal of gray marble from Lartos representing the prow of a ship (most likely a trihemiolia), and represents the goddess as she descends from the skies to the triumphant fleet. Before she lost her arms, which have never been recovered, Nike's right arm is believed to have been raised, [7] cupped round her mouth to deliver the shout of Victory. [8] The work is notable for its convincing rendering of a pose where violent motion and sudden stillness meet, for its graceful balance and for the rendering of the figure's draped garments, compellingly depicted as if rippling in a strong sea breeze. Similar traits can be seen in the Laocoön group which is a reworked copy of a lost original that was likely close both in time and place of origin to Nike, but while Laocoön, vastly admired by Renaissance and classicist artists, has come to be seen [ by whom? ] as a more self-conscious and contrived work, Nike of Samothrace is seen as an iconic depiction of triumphant spirit and of the divine momentarily coming face to face with man.

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Nike of Samothrace, Smarthistory.

The statue's outstretched right wing is a symmetric plaster version of the original left one. The stylistic portrayal of the wings is a source of scholarly discussion, as the feather pattern resembles neither the wings of birds in nature nor wings in Greek art. [9] As with the arms, the figure's head has never been found, but various other fragments have since been found: in 1950, a team led by Karl Lehmann unearthed the missing right hand of the Louvre's Winged Victory. The fingerless hand had slid out of sight under a large rock, near where the statue had originally stood; on the return trip home, Dr Phyllis Williams Lehmann identified the tip of the Goddess's ring finger and her thumb in a storage drawer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, where the second Winged Victory is displayed; the fragments have been reunited with the hand, [10] which is now in a glass case in the Louvre next to the podium on which the statue stands.

The different degree of finishing of the sides has led scholars to think that it was intended to be seen from three-quarters on the left.

A partial inscription on the base of the statue includes the word "Rhodios" (Rhodian), indicating that the statue was commissioned to celebrate a naval victory by Rhodes, at that time the most powerful maritime state in the Aegean which in itself would date the statue to 288 BC at the earliest. [11] [ citation needed ]


The great statue was carefully lowered down a ramp in 1939 when it was removed from the Louvre and Paris for safekeeping. Nike descending staircase 3sept1939.jpg
The great statue was carefully lowered down a ramp in 1939 when it was removed from the Louvre and Paris for safekeeping.

The sculptor is unknown, [12] although Paul MacKendrick suggests that Pythokritos of Lindos is responsible. [13] When first discovered on the island of Samothrace (then part of the Ottoman Empire and called Semadirek) and published in 1863, it was suggested that the Victory was erected by the Macedonian general Demetrius Poliorcetes after his naval victory at Cyprus, between 295 and 289 BC. The Archaeological Museum of Samothrace continues to follow these originally established provenance and dates. [14] Ceramic evidence discovered in recent excavations has revealed that the pedestal was set up about 200 BC, though some scholars still date it as early as 250 BC or as late as 180. [15] Certainly, the parallels with figures and drapery from the Pergamon Altar (dated about 170 BC) seem strong. The evidence for a Rhodian commission of the statue has been questioned, however, and the closest artistic parallel to the Nike of Samothrace are figures depicted on Macedonian coins. [16] Samothrace was an important sanctuary for the Hellenistic Macedonian kings. The most likely battle commemorated by this monument is, perhaps, the Battle of Cos in 255 BC, in which Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedonia won over the fleet of Ptolemy II of Egypt. [17]

In April 1863, the Victory was discovered by the then French consul in Adrianopolis and amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau (1830–1909), who sent it to Paris in the same year. The statue has been reassembled in stages since its discovery. The prow was reconstructed from marble debris at the site by Champoiseau in 1879 and assembled in situ before being shipped to Paris.

After 1884, the statue was positioned where it would visually dominate the Daru staircase. [18] Since 1883, the marble figure has been displayed in the Louvre, while a plaster replica stands at the original location of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace.

In the autumn of 1939, the Winged Victory was removed from her perch in anticipation of the outbreak of World War II. All the museums of Paris were closed on August 25. Artwork and objects were packed for removal to locations deemed safer outside Paris for safekeeping. On the night of September 3, the statue descended the staircase on a wooden ramp which was constructed across the steps. [19] During the years of World War II, the statue sheltered in safety in the Château de Valençay along with the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo's Slaves. [20]

The discovery in the 1950s of the palm of the right hand and two fingers established that this hand was meant to show a simple gesture of statue and was not holding an object; the partial hand is stored next to the statue. [21]

2013–14 restoration

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, side view Nike of Samothrace Musee du Louvre 20141107 125035.jpg
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, side view

In 2013 a restoration effort was launched to improve the appearance of the sculpture. This was the first detailed examination of the individual pieces of the sculpture to date. The restoration aimed to restore the marble to its original hue which had been tarnished by time. The sculpture was removed from its base and carried into an adjoining room which was transformed for the occasion into a restoration workshop. The base was dismantled block by block and placed in the workshop. Scientific reviews were performed on the base (UV, Infrared, X-ray spectroscopy) prior to cleaning the surface of the marble. This effort aimed to respect the goals of the original restoration performed in 1883. The surface of the base was cleaned and then reassembled, and some gaps in the marble were repaired. Upon completion of the restoration, the statue was reunited with its base and returned to its prior position at the head of the Daru staircase in the Louvre.

Assessment, reception and influence

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, before restoration Winged Victory of Samothrace side.jpg
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, before restoration

Despite its significant damage and incompleteness, the Victory is held to be one of the great surviving masterpieces of sculpture from the Hellenistic Period, and from the entire Greco-Roman era. The statue shows a mastery of form and movement which has impressed critics and artists since its discovery. It is considered one of the Louvre's greatest treasures, and since the late 19th century it has been displayed in the most dramatic fashion, at the head of the sweeping Daru staircase.

The art historian H. W. Janson has pointed out [1] that unlike earlier Greek or Near Eastern sculptures, Nike creates a deliberate relationship to the imaginary space around the goddess. The wind that has carried her and which she is fighting off, straining to keep steady – as mentioned the original mounting had her standing on a ship's prow, just having landed – is the invisible complement of the figure and the viewer is made to imagine it. At the same time, this expanded space heightens the symbolic force of the work; the wind and the sea are suggested as metaphors of struggle, destiny and divine help or grace. This kind of interplay between a statue and the space conjured up would become a common device in baroque and romantic art, about two thousand years later. It is present in Michelangelo's sculpture of David: David's gaze and pose shows where he is seeing his adversary Goliath and his awareness of the moment – but it is rare in ancient art.

The Victory soon became a cultural icon to which artists responded in many different ways. For example, Abbott Handerson Thayer's A Virgin (1892–93) is a well-known painted allusion. When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti issued his Futurist Manifesto in 1909, he chose to contrast his movement with the supposedly defunct artistic sentiments of the Winged Victory: "a race-automobile which seems to rush over exploding powder is more beautiful than the 'Victory of Samothrace'".

The 1913 sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by the Futuristic sculptor Umberto Boccioni, currently located at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, was influenced by the statue, and is said to bear an underlying resemblance to it. [22]

Campaign for repatriation

On February 3, 1999, according to the Macedonian Press Agency: News in English, "residents of the Aegean island of Samothrace, the birthplace of the renowned Greek sculpture Nike of Samothrace, aka the Winged Victory, embarked on a letter-writing campaign to have this finest extant of Hellenistic sculpture returned to their homeland. In a letter signed by the island's mayor, the locals urged Greek politicians to intervene and request that the Louvre museum, where the statue is kept, acknowledge that the sculpture belongs in its natural environment." [23]

The Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs asked again for its return in 2013. [24]

Modern copies and derivative works

The Winged Victory of Samothrace copy, Caesars Palace Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. Winged Victory of Samothrace Las Vegas.JPG
The Winged Victory of Samothrace copy, Caesars Palace Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
A copy at the Idaho State Capitol Idaho Victory.jpg
A copy at the Idaho State Capitol
A plaster copy of the Winged Victory in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil MNBA Vitoria de Samotracia.jpg
A plaster copy of the Winged Victory in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Numerous copies exist in museums and galleries around the world; one of the best-known copies stands outside the Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas. The first FIFA World Cup trophy, commissioned in 1930 and designed by Abel Lafleur, was based on the model.

This statue was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright and he used reproductions of it in a number of his buildings, including Ward Willits House, Darwin D. Martin House and Storer House.

The largest public sculpture based on Nike appears in a prominent position atop the massive Pennsylvania State Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia sculptor Samuel Murray, a student and intimate of painter Thomas Eakins, produced the 28-foot figure in 1911 with possible influence from Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Nike interpretation on the Sherman Memorial in New York City (1903). Saint-Gaudens depicts Nike with her right arm raised while it is thought the original Nike was not making such gesture. Saint-Gaudens' Nike also wears a laurel wreath on her head and bears a large olive branch in her left hand. Murray adapted the laurel wreath and olive branch innovations but also placed a sword in Nike's raised right hand. [25]

Starting in 1962, Yves Klein produced a series of plaster replicas of the Nike coated in dry pigment of his signature International Klein Blue affixed by resin entitled Victoire de Samatrace. [26]

Swedish author Gunnar Ekelöf made Nike a central image in his poem Samothrace, written in 1941, [27] where the faceless deity, arms outstretched like sails, is made into a symbol of the fight and the coming victory against Nazism and the struggle for freedom throughout history. It also features in the Matthew Reilly novel Seven Ancient Wonders , where it is fictionally made part of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

A full-size replica of the statue sits in The Ohio State University's Thompson Library in Columbus, Ohio. [28] Another full size replica stands in the lobby of Crouse College, home to the Setnor School of Music, at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. A 7-foot (2.1 m) replica of the sculpture stands at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. The second-largest replica of this statue in the United States stands at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is 10 ft (3.0 m) high.

Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas has a replica which was purchased from the Louvre and shipped from Paris in 1982. This replica is actually a replacement of the original 1929 replica given to commemorate Armistice Day and the defeat of autocracy. [29] A replica of the statue sits overlooking the Veterans area of the Skylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, California. [30]

The Estrugamou Building in Buenos Aires, Argentina was built in four sections, arranged around a patio adorned with a bronze copy of the iconic Winged Victory of Samothrace. The Cape Town Cenotaph is topped by a replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace by British sculptor Vernon March. Another plaster replica adorns the atrium of Technische Universität Berlin. The replica was a gift by French universities to the TU Berlin in 1956. [31]

Augustus Saint-Gaudens' 1903 equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman in Grand Army Plaza, New York City, depicts a robed, winged Nike leading Sherman while holding a palm branch, as a symbol of his victory in the Civil War and the peace to follow. [32]

Graffiti artist Banksy created CCTV Angel in 2006 depicting a robed, winged figure with a CCTV camera for a head, as a statement on the overreach with security surveillance in society. [33]

Killer Mike has a reduced-size replica of the statute made of gold, which he often wears as a chain icon. [34]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 Janson, H.W. (1995) History of Art. 5th edn. Revised and expanded by Anthony F. Janson. London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 157–158. ISBN   0500237018
  2. In Greek the statue is called the Niki tis Samothrakis (Νίκη της Σαμοθράκης) and in French La Victoire de Samothrace. There are two further statues of Winged Victory found in the Samothrace temple complex: a Roman copy found by a team of Austrian archaeologists, now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and a third Winged Victory found by Dr. Phyllis Williams Lehmann in 1949, now in a museum at the Samothrace site.
  3. Smith, 78
  4. Stewart 2016, p. 399.
  5. Stewart 2016, p. 400.
  6. Honour, H. and J. Fleming, (2009) A World History of Art. 7th edn. London: Laurence King Publishing, p. 174. ISBN   9781856695848
  7. The flex of her torso reveals the movement of her missing arm.
  8. Louvre Website: the discovery of her right hand, identified by Phyllis Williams Lehmann, now also at the Louvre, settled questions of her gesture, whether to bring a trumpet to her lips as she is depicted on earlier coins or bearing a wreath to crown the naval victor.
  9. Bonna, Wescoat (2015-01-22). "From the Vantage of the Victory: New Research on the Nike of Samothrace". National Humanities Center. 20:08-23:40. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  10. New York Times, Obituary of Phyllis Williams Lehmann, 16 October 2004.
  11. Stansbury-O'Donnell, Mark D. (2014). A History of Greek Art. John Wiley & Sons. p. 360. ISBN   9781118839423.
  12. Waxman, Sharon, Lost: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World. Time Books, 2008, p. 82.
  13. MacKendrick, Paul, The Greek Stones Speak, Norton & Company 1962
  14. Hatzfeld pointed out in 1910 that Samothrace was in the possession of Demetrios' bitter personal enemy Lysimachus, who would not have permitted the erection of such a monument.
  15. Haskell, Francis and Nicholas Penny. (1981) Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500–1900. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 333. ISBN   0-300-02641-2
  16. Smith, 1991. Hellenistic Sculpture (World of Art).
  17. Burn, 2005. Hellenistic Art: From Alexander the Great to Augustus.
  18. The monumental Escalier Daru designed by Hector Lefuel to replace the former staircase of the Musée Napoléon was constructed from 1855 to 1857 in the Pavillon Daru, named for a minister of Napoleon III. At the fall of the Second Empire it remained incomplete; it was finished in 1883 as a setting for the Victory of Samothrace (Louvre website).
  19. Nicholas, Lynn H. (1994) The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 54–55. ISBN   978-0-679-40069-1; OCLC 246524635
  20. Nicholas, p. 87.
  21. Canvassing the Masterpieces • The Winged Victory of Samothrace August 29, 2019.
  22. Museum of Modern Art, New York: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
  23. "CAMPAIGN UNDERWAY TO RETURN NIKE OF SAMOTHRACE TO GREECE". 1999-02-03. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  24. "Greece Wants Victory of Samothrace Back". Greek Reporter. 2013-08-30. Retrieved 2018-01-19. As officials of the Louvre in Paris seek to raise another one million euros to renovate the famed sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace that was stolen off that Greek island by a Frenchman in the 19th Century, Greece has asked for its return.
  25. "Winged Victory: A Closer Look at the Pennsylvania Memorial". The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park. April 30, 2016.
  26. "Samothrace Victory – Galerie Omagh". Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  27. In Ekelöf, Non Serviam , Bonniers, Stockholm 1945, and in later collected editions of his poems.
  28. "Winged Victory replica statue placed in Thompson Library, 100 year history with Ohio State".
  29. "Campus Art – TWU TWU Libraries – Texas Woman's University". Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  30. "About Us - Skylawn Memorial Park - Funeral - Cremation - Cremation".
  31. "Stabsstelle Presse, Öffentlichkeitsarbeit und Alumni: Kunstwerke".
  32. "Grand Army Plaza, New York, NY - CT".
  33. "Bansky: CCTV Angel". Artnet. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  34. "Twitter @Killer Mike".


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