Just Do It

Winged Victory of Samothrace - taken from www.Wikipedia.org

Winged Victory of Samothrace — she was meant to be viewed from the right, so the detail of her left side isn’t as well carved – compare to the next photo  – taken from www.Wikipedia.org

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has appeared in many THATLous, from Angels + Wings to Wealth + Power. The write up attached to her (below in italics) generally has some sneaky bonus question inserted. As she’s an Icon of the Louvre, her photo is on the map — easy to find. So to make her worth more than a few piddling 10 points some of the bonus questions in the treasure hunt ask the hunters to pose in their photos with their hands as she once had them, cupping her lips as she calls out Victory! With her hand on display near her frame (some of her fingers were found in a drawer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna), it would take the hunters a bit of time to actually read the Louvre’s information about her in order to win these craftily embedded bonus points (Or maybe they’ve read this very post :-0).

Nike of Samothrace Louvre - taken from www.wikipedia.org

Nike of Samothrace, from 220 – 190 BC, at the Louvre (note the exceptional sculpture and detail of her wet-drapery)- taken from http://www.wikipedia.org

The Winged Goddess of Victory / Nike of Samothrace (Nike = Victory in Greek) stands proudly on the prow of a ship, soaring above the Daru Stairwell. She is one of those Hellenistic treasures we all have to study in Art History 101, a piece as noteworthy to the Louvre as the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo. She was found in Samothrace (N. Aegean) where a sanctuary was consecrated to the Cabeiri (gods of fertility) whose help was invoked to protect seafarers and to grant victory in war. Honouring these gods, they offered this nearly nude Nike made of Parian Marble in a religious act. It has also been suggested that she was dedicated to Rhodes, in commemoration of a specific naval victory. No one is certain of her provenance, however, the partial inscription of the word Rhodes implies the whereabouts of whatever battle she was presiding over.

That said the Archeological Museum of Samothrace contests this Rhodian provenance, maintaining to this day that she was erected by the Macedonian general Demetrius I (aka Poliorcetes) after his naval victory at Cyprus between 295-289 BC. Samothrace was an important sanctuary for Macedonian kings, moreover her spiral figure also figured on contemporary Macedonian coins.

Louvre's Daru Staircase, taken from  www.wikipedia.org

Louvre’s Daru Staircase, taken from www.wikipedia.org

Wherever this beauty is from, she was discovered dislodged by the French Counsul (and amateur archaeologist) Charles Champoiseau (I suspect that all British, French and German 19th century Consuls, Consul Generals and Diplomats were required to be ‘amateur archaeologist’ — on the prowl in foreign lands to see just what they could ravage their visiting countries of. Diplomacy was a side business they fit in when they happened to be in town). M Chamoiseau swiftly deposited both her and the prow on which she stands to the halls of the Louvre in 1863.

By 1884 she was holding sway over the grand Daru Staircase and has been there ever since…. Sauf! During WWII. She was removed on 2 September 1939 — to be sheltered in the safety of Château de Valençay (along with other Louvre Icons, Michelangelo’s Slaves and the Venus de Milo), in case Paris saw the ravages of war. Every time I mount these stairs among the throngs of tourists I think of these evacuating railway tracks (as seen below) and how incredibly lucky the treasures of the Louvre and Paris were not to have fallen victim to the war — but also how horribly ironic is was that Nike was to be the first in battle against the Titans, protecting Zeus, and yet here she was hiding in a Château for the duration of the war. A subject I probably shouldn’t get into.

Preparing for war in another way, Nike descends the Daru Staircase on 3 September 1939, photo appears on www.wikipedia.com and credited below

Preparing for war in another way, Nike descends the Daru Staircase on 3 September 1939, photo appears on http://www.wikipedia.com and credited below

The 7th century BC Greek poet, Hesiod has it that Nike was the daughter of Styx (Hatred) and Pallas (God of War Craft); Part of a powerful clan, Nike was sister to Zelos (Rivalry), and Kratos (Strength) and Bia (Force). When Zeus was preparing to battle the Titans, Styx and her brood pledged their allegiance to him. Zeus made Nike his charioteer and proclaimed that the four children should remain by his side always (who’d be stupid enough to turn down the children of Hatred, when it comes to fighting a war?).  Though Nike was a popular theme for Greek sculpture, her story doesn’t really continue past Zeus’s battle against the Titans.

As for her wonderfully sexy form, with typical Hellenistic material no thicker than cling-wrap, I recommend this page from the Met’s website for a context and timeline on the Hellenistic age. The proper pronunciation of Nike is Nee-Kay — Just Say It!


(Photo credited to Nicolas de Boyer, published in 1995 by Lynn H. Nichols The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Teasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books)

When things are in bold, usually that’s a hint that they refer to bonus questions… Venus would be a fine candidate for the Love + Marriage Hunt, no?


12 thoughts on “Just Do It

    • Yes — actually reassembling her would be an entire post unto itself — for instance one of her wings was entirely rebuilt. And she was meant to be seen from the right hand side, which is why the details of her material billowing in the wind is carved with such detail – opposed to the left side (you can see above) which is much foggier in terms of detail.

  1. I’m always a sucker for anything regarding Nike or running and this is no exception! It’s funny, I’ve never thought before about what happened to special pieces of art during the war… I can’t imagine living through a war in my own city – just those fighter jets yesterday practicing were enough to scare me and realize how lucky I am to never experience war on my own soil!

    • Yes me neither – I can’t imagine it. Were you in NY during 9/11? I had a studio above Magnolia Bakery and the helicopters and sirens were as loud as yesterday’s fighter jets. By the time I got to 7th Ave/St Vincent’s the scene was just crazy with hundreds of people standing in silence in the middle of the ave staring down at the first tower’s enormous black cloud. But that’s the closest to seeing any war – so how very lucky we are.

    • Yes, indeed, do revisit her. Even despite the throngs of tourists stopping on the stairs for their photos she really is magnificent. You’ve given me a fun idea, I should try to see all the movies that have scenes at the Louvre. Thanks!

    • Hi! Thank you so much for visiting from Carol’s Paris Breakfast blog review of our lunch. It’s called Ante Primo and it’s on rue du Fbg St Honore, in the 8th Arrt, just up the road from St Philippe du Roule. It’s my regular lunch place, but sadly is closing at the end of the month as the glorious Haussmannian building’s been sold. I’m crushed and will wander aimlessly for lunch now (just kidding). Best, Daisy

  2. I can vividly remember the first time that I saw her. Being a science major, I somehow skipped art courses in college and had not done any real prep work before my first visit to the Louvre in 1999. She took my breath away as I saw her at the top of the staircase. For me, she is the real treasure at the Louvre.

    • Hi Harriet,
      Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s almost better to go to a museum without any prep – because what you find there somehow strikes you so much more strongly. That spiral pose of hers and the incredibly sexy navel are timeless. Don’t get me started on the movement her tunic implies with all that wind. Too good!
      Kind regards,

  3. Pingback: Films, Drinks + Art | THATLou

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