One of my favorite classes in college was Art History. I love history to begin with, and Art History was surprisingly fun, all thanks to my incredible professor, Mark Terry. The entire class was basically, “look, here’s a painting/sculpture/whatever and here is the story behind it.”
My favorite story from that class was the story of Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Winged Victory of Samothrace (also called Nike of Samothrace) is a marble statue standing 8 feet tall (taller when it had a head), built not only to honor the goddess Nike (goddess of strength, speed, and victory) but a sea battle. Scholars believe it was sculpted with the intent of being seen from three-quarters to the left (as shown above).
Considered one of the Louvre’s most precious treasures, it was carefully removed in 1939 to avoid being stolen by the Nazis. It stands at the top of the Daru staircase on a piece intended to look like the bow of a ship.
Now, I could go into the details of its discovery, where it likely stood, and a lesson of Greek arts, but what I’m really interested in is the story behind it. What inspired someone to sculpt this incredible goddess?
Fun fact: Nike seems to pre-date the Big 12 Olympians, though she doesn’t feature prominently in many myths.
The myth, the one behind the carving of the statue, I cannot seem to find anywhere. As it was told to me, there was a great sea battle wherein the “good guys” (although, really, who are the good guys in history?) were losing, and then suddenly Nike appeared on the bow of their ship, the winds changed in their favor, and they won the sea battle.
Like many statues of antiquity, she is missing several parts – head, hands, and feet, notably. Her right hand was found in Samothrace in 1950. It has its palm open with her thumb and ringer finger outstretched as if she were greeting someone (the other fingers are missing from the hand).
Her feet have been lost, but based on the surface where they would have been it seems her right foot was just landing on the ship’s bow while the left was still in the air. It’s like she’s just descending from above to help her patrons.
Can you confirm or deny this myth? Can you provide any additional information?
You can also find a wealth of information here.