April 14, 2021

Exploring The History Of The ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’ — Louvre’s Most Treasured Masterpiece

Corridors, halls and galleries filled with the works of great masters: the Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world. To see the entire collection would take you at least a week. However, most visitors come mainly for the three famous ladies: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Nike of Samothrace, or as some may know it as The ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’.

Magnificent in its symbolism and artisanship, The Winged Victory of Samothrace remains one of the most popular and appreciated sculptures of our day. Exhibited at the Louvre since 1864, this messenger goddess contains endless mysteries that will continue to fascinate us. Become all the more enamored with this author-less masterpiece with KAZoART’s Canvassing the Masterpieces!

The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Photo: muratart’ via Shutterstock)

The Discovery of The Statue

The Victory of Samothrace as we know her today was not discovered in tact. It seems that the goddess originally appeared perched on the bow of a ship. Found in a fragmented state in 1863, her discovery is credited to Charles Champoiseau, an amateur archaeologist.

A cultured diplomat and history buff, he conducted research throughout the Mediterranean region in the 19th century. He made this incredible discovery by exploring the sanctuary of the “Great Gods” on the Greek island of Samothrace (north of the Agean Sea).

The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Photo: muratart via Shutterstock)

The explorer later got his hands on several fragments of the statue that he sent to Paris for analysis and restoration. These additional fragments gave a second life to the goddess personifying Victory. The latter is also called Niké and is not yet known whose handiwork lies at the origin of this sculptural excellence.

However, the story of this amazing discovery doesn’t end there. During his excavations, Charles Champoiseau came across other fragments that didn’t particularly seem special to him. At the time, he didn’t question the discovery of greyish marble blocks. Deeming them unimportant, he left them on the Samothrace site.

(Photo: fritz16 via Shutterstock)

But Greek coins that date between 301 and 292 BC give an idea as to what the statue might have looked like and demonstrate why the marble blocks were in fact, an integral part of the statue.

Tetradrachma of Demetrios Poliorcète. (293-292 BC). Front: The Winged Victory of Samothrace in front of a ship; Back: Poseidon. / cgb.fr [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Other expeditions in 1875 added to the statue’s reassembly. During a mission led by the German archaeologist Alexander Conze, the fragments that Champoiseau had abondoned were found to be the ship’s bow – the statue’s missing pieces. Adding these features allows for the winged goddess to reach a height of 5 meters! All of these elements were shipped to Paris separately and assembled on site.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace: a statue full of mystery

Excavation continued in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During this time they uncovered the palm of a marble hand and other blocks that were once at the base of the statue. Some archeologists hold that there are still fragments of the statue left at the discovery site.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Photo: muratart via Shutterstock)

Today, the idea of finding other parts of The Winged Victory of Samothrace seems practically impossible. The fact that her arms nor her head have been found still preserves a lot of the mystery around this statue.

Moreover, the right hand of the goddess Nike raises many questions. The shape of her two folded fingers suggests that she was holding a trumpet, cord, or crown in the hollow of her hand.

However, this hypothesis was swept aside in 1950 after a more in-depth study of the position of her outstretched fingers. In reality, The Winged Victory wouldn’t be holding anything. Her extended hand would instead be a simple gesture of salute.

Kayvan Khiabani

This goddess embodies femininity, power and paradoxically, lightness. A symbol of leadership, this emblematic sculpture was likely crafted for a cult. Also an allegory of military victory, she celebrates the triumph of an unknown king.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Photo: muratart via Shutterstock)

Zooming in on The Winged Goddess Victory

The Winged Victory of Samothrace depicts a winged woman, draped in fine cloth and a chiton that descends to her feet. Her fabric is tightened at the waist by a belt. This fluid dress gives the goddess a light and airy quality. This is highlighted even more by her absence of head and arms.

Made of Paros marble, her lines sinuous are, her legs are pointed forward, wings extended! The white folds of her garment that gracefully drape her body accentuate the statue’s sense of movement.

Legacy

Today, the Winged Victory of Samothrace remains one of the most celebrated sculptures on earth. Since making its debut at the Louvre in the 19th century, it has inspired countless artists. Surrealist Salvador Dalí directly appropriated this sculpture for his Double Nike de Samothrace (1973), and Futurist Umberto Boccioni employed the figure’s iconic stance for his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913).

While these modern interpretations undoubtedly capture the spirit of the piece, no other Winged Victory can captivate audiences as triumphantly as the original treasure.

Daru Staircase (Photo: jackbolla via Shutterstock)