Sat, Jan 26, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: The Nike of Samothrace

The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The famous sportswear brand Nike derives its name from Nike, the goddess of victory in ancient Greek mythology. Nike was a messenger for conveying the intentions of Zeus, the dominant god of the Greek pantheon: when Zeus proclaimed victory for one side on a battlefield or game, Nike would descend to the winning side and announce the victor. For this reason, the ancient Greeks would often use the winged goddess to symbolize victory in the abstract sense of the word.

In 1863, a statue of the goddess of victory was unearthed on the Greek island of Samothrace. Scholars determined that the statue dated back to around 190 BC, and had been made to commemorate a maritime victory.

The statue is now kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, displayed standing on a platform shaped like the prow of a ship. It is missing its head and arms, but the power and elegance of its posture as it faces the incoming wind remains impressive.

The lithe beauty of the goddess shines through from under the folds of her dress, pressed tightly to her figure by the implied force of the ocean wind, the folds of her buffeted clothes flapping, her wings spread expansively despite the incoming onslaught. Her right leg thrust forward creates a dynamic apposition with the left and upper body; her two spread wings, as heavy as 300 and 400 kgs, reinforced inside with metal skillfully to balance, look as if they could actually be of feather, and could bear her into the air at any time.

Compared to the self-sufficient aspect of Greek art, evocative solely of the appearance of movement of the isolated subject, the innovation of Hellenic period art such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace is the suggestion of surrounding space or an unseen object or strength that the subject reacts against. In this example, the goddess’ posture is suggestive of the force of the wind and the elements at sea, with the interplay between “nothingness” and “substance” creating the dramatic tension of the statue.

Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of only a small number of original statues that survive from the Hellenistic period that are not Roman imitations. With the unification of the Greek city states and subjugation of Persia under Alexander the Great, and the spread of Greek civilization to Greek colonies along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Greek art evolved into Hellenistic art, which influenced the future Roman Empire, Renaissance and Baroque art and even spread as far as the East.

(Translated by Paul Cooper)








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