The Winged Victory of Samothrace
In a presentation mixing grandeur and theatricality, the winged goddess of Victory once stood on the prow of a ship overlooking the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace. This monument was probably an ex-voto offered by the people of Rhodes in commemoration of a naval victory in the early second century BC. The theatrical stance, vigorous movement, and billowing drapery of this Hellenistic sculpture is combined with references to the Classical Period, prefiguring the Baroque aestheticism of the Pergamene sculptors.
This exceptional monument was unearthed in 1863 by Charles Champoiseau, French Vice-Consul to Adrianople (Turkey), and is now part of the permanent collection at the Louvre.
The goddess of Victory (Nike, in Greek) is shown in the form of a winged woman, braced against the strong wind blowing through her garments. Once her right hand was cupped around her mouth, announcing the event she was dedicated to commemorate. The colossal work had been placed in a rock niche that had been dug into a hill overlooking the theater of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. This niche may also have contained a pool filled with water in which the ship appeared to float. Given its placement, the work was meant to be viewed from the front left-hand side; this explains the disparity in sculpting technique, the right side of the body being much less detailed.
The highly theatrical presentation combined with the goddess’s monumentality, wide wingspan, and the vigor of her forward-thrusting body reinforces the reality of the scene.
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