Winged Victory of Samothrace

A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace

A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Front, right side and three-quarter view: © Erich Lessing
Left side view: © Photo RMN / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowski
Introduction: © 2008 Musée du Louvre / Cécile Dégremont
 

Analysis

The drapery

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The monument consists of a statue of a winged female figure – the messenger goddess Victory – and a base in the shape of the prow of a ship, standing on a low pedestal.

Overall, the work measures 5.57 m (18 feet 3 ins) in height. The statue, made of white Paros marble, stands 2.75 m (9 feet) tall, including the wings. The base (2.01 m, 6 feet 7 ins) and the pedestal (36 cm, 1 foot 2 ins) are sculpted from grey white-veined marble from the quarries of Lartos on the island of Rhodes. The darker color contrasts with the white marble of the statue, although a patina has now formed over the whole surface of the monument.

The Victory is wearing a long chiton, or tunic, of fine cloth, that falls in folds to her feet. To shorten the skirts, the cloth is gathered by a belt, hidden by the folds which hang over the hips. The chiton is held in place by a second belt beneath the breasts.

The garment’s flowing lines are portrayed with great virtuosity. The fabric over the stomach and the left thigh is shot over with wrinkles that seem to skim over the skin underneath. The light cloth is bunched in narrow folds on the figure’s sides, while the front of the left leg is carved with surface incisions to create an effect of light fabric drapery.

The handling of the chiton is in striking contrast with the thick, deeply carved draped folds of the cloak or himation, which covers part of the chiton. The sophisticated form of the folds of the cloak becomes clear when the outside and inside are highlighted in blue and red, following the folds of the cloth.

The himation, worn wrapped in a roll round the waist, has worked loose at the figure’s left hip. A large gathering of folds have slipped between the figure’s legs, leaving the left hip and leg uncovered. The right hip and leg are covered to half-way down the calf. The cloak has swept open, with a fold of cloth streaming out behind the figure, so that we see the inside of the cloth. The unfastened cloak is held against the Victory’s body by the sheer force of the wind.
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© Photo RMN / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowski
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© Erich Lessing
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© Erich Lessing
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© Erich Lessing
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© Erich Lessing
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The pose

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The statue is best seen from a three-quarter left view, where the lines of composition are seen at their clearest: a long vertical line leading up the right leg to the top of the torso, and a slanting line leading up the left leg and thigh to the torso. The Victory’s figure is incorporated into a right-angled triangle encompassing the generous lines of the body, the folds of her garments, and the energy of her forward movement.

The impressive size of the left-hand wing and its almost horizontal position add considerably to the dynamic feel of the composition. The frontal view is structured by the line of the right leg outlined by the fabric of the cloak, while the left leg is almost entirely hidden behind the folds of drapery. The hips and shoulders likewise are square to the viewer, and the torso is quite straight. The right shoulder and breast are slightly raised, indicating that the right arm was held aloft.

Seen from the right side of the statue, the body is a slender, sinuous form. The sculpture is much plainer on this side, as the artist must have thought it was not worthwhile expending so much effort on a side rarely seen by onlookers. The back of the statue is quite plain, for the same reason.

A number of fragments from the missing parts of the statue are very helpful clues in recreating the monument as it must once have looked. The right wing currently attached to the statue is a mirror-image cast of the left wing. Two surviving fragments from the original right wing indicate that it was raised higher, slanting upward and outward. A tiny fragment from the top of the right arm shows that the arm was raised slightly away from the figure’s side and was bent at the elbow. Small Victory figurines in terracotta found in Myrina in Turkey give a good idea of what the original pose might have been.

It has been suggested that the Victory held a trumpet, a wreath, or a fillet in her right hand. However, the hand found in Samothrace in 1950 had an open palm and two outstretched fingers, suggesting that she was not holding anything and was simply holding her hand up in a gesture of greeting.

The two feet, sculpted separately from the rest of the statue, have been lost. Their position has been recreated thanks to the shape of the surface where they would have been placed. The right foot was just alighting on the ship’s deck, while the left was still in the air. The Victory was not striding forward, but rather alighting on the ship, barely skimming the base.

This drawing suggests what the original statue might have looked like. Only the position of the head, which doubtless looked straight ahead, and the left arm, probably down by the figure’s side, remain hypothetical.
circa 1875
Plaster
Musée des Moulages de Versailles
Mold of the body in back view
circa 1875
Plaster
Musée des Moulages de Versailles

© Musée du Louvre / P. Lebaube
circa 190 BC
Myrina
Clay
H. 25 cm
Gift of the French School in Athens
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Myr 171
Statuette: Victory
circa 190 BC
Myrina
Clay
H. 25 cm
Gift of the French School in Athens
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Myr 171

© Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
circa 190 BC
Myrina
Clay
H. 25 cm
Gift of the French School in Athens
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Myr 171
Statuette: Victory
circa 190 BC
Myrina
Clay
H. 25 cm
Gift of the French School in Athens
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Myr 171

© Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
1875-1880
Plaster
Lost
O. Benndorf and K. von Zumbusch
Reconstruction of the Victory of Samothrace
1875-1880
Plaster
Lost

© ARR
Bronze
Location unknown
A. Cordonnier (1848–1930)
Reconstruction of the Victory of Samothrace
Bronze
Location unknown

© ARR
Parian marble
L. 28 cm; W. 17 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Ma 2369 bis
Right hand
Parian marble
L. 28 cm; W. 17 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Ma 2369 bis

© Musée du Louvre / Anne Chauvet
Parian marble
L. 28 cm; W. 17 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Ma 2369 bis
Right hand
Parian marble
L. 28 cm; W. 17 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Ma 2369 bis

© 2002 Musée du Louvre / Anne Chauvet
Place of the right foot

© Musée du Louvre / Anne Chauvet
Place of the left foot, back view of the statue

© Musée du Louvre / Anne Chauvet
Reconstruction of the statue

© Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect
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The base in the form of a ship

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The Hellenistic period saw numerous naval battles between the kingdoms inherited by the successors of Alexander the Great as they fought for control of the Aegean Sea. Battle fleets were thus a vital military resource.

The base of the Victory of Samothrace depicts the prow of a battleship typical of a time which saw many new developments in naval architecture. The best-known of these developments was the invention of oar boxes, which were wooden structures jutting out from the ship’s flanks. They were used to bear the weight of several tiers of longer, more powerful oars. The oar boxes on the base of the statue are particularly well preserved. On the outer side, you can even make out the oval openings used as oar slots, forming two unaligned rows.

But the most important weapon on a Greek battleship was its great ram, attached to the waterline, along with a smaller ram higher on the stem. The rams from the Samothrace base have been lost entirely. They would have been carved in stone, like those on the base of the naval monument in the agora of Cyrene in Libya. A bronze ram measuring 2.27 m (7 feet 4.5 ins) in length and weighing 465 kilograms (1,025 lbs) found off the coast of Israel shows what a terrible weapon this really was.

The prow ornament, placed at the extremity of the stem at the front of the ship, is likewise missing from the Victory of Samothrace, but coins and bas relief carvings from the period suggest what it might have looked like.

This is what the base of the Victory must originally have looked like. The diagram shows the keel, the large ram extending from the main wale, the smaller ram extending from the stem at the level of the upper wale, the oar boxes with the oar slots, the gunwale, the prow ornament, and the fighting deck.
3rd-2nd century BC
Marble
H. 37 cm; W. 53 cm
Samothrace, sanctuary of the Great Gods
Relief: battleship
3rd-2nd century BC
Marble
H. 37 cm; W. 53 cm
Samothrace, sanctuary of the Great Gods

© 2004 Claude Rolley
early 1st century BC
Italy, Palestrina, Museo Barberiniano
Nile Mosaic (detail): battleship
early 1st century BC
Italy, Palestrina, Museo Barberiniano

© Fotografia Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio
circa 250-240 BC?
Libya, Cyrene, agora
Naval monument
circa 250-240 BC?
Libya, Cyrene, agora

© A. Pasquier

circa 250-240 BC?
Libya, Cyrene, agora
Naval monument

circa 250-240 BC?
Libya, Cyrene, agora

© A. Pasquier
first half of the 2nd century BC
Found off the coast of Israel at Atlit
Bronze
Israel, Haifa, National Maritime Museum
Battleship ram
first half of the 2nd century BC
Found off the coast of Israel at Atlit
Bronze
Israel, Haifa, National Maritime Museum

© Israel Antiquities Authority
circa 227 BC
Silver
Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Médailles
Tetradrachm (four drachma coin) showing Antigonus Doson
circa 227 BC
Silver
Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Médailles

© Photo Bibliothèque Nationale de France
second half of the 2nd century BC
Marble
Turkey, Izmir (Smyrna), Archaeological Museum
Funerary stele
second half of the 2nd century BC
Marble
Turkey, Izmir (Smyrna), Archaeological Museum

© ARR
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The structure of the monument

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The statue of the Victory of Samothrace consists of several blocks of marble, carved separately and then assembled. This technique, used by Greek sculptors for the head and other protruding parts of the statue as early as the Archaic period, began to be used for the body itself in the Hellenistic period.

The statue thus consists of one large block from beneath the breasts to the feet, topped by a smaller block for the upper torso and head. The arms, wings, feet, and several pieces of the drapery were carved separately before the work as a whole was assembled.

The wings, carved from two large marble slabs and attached to the back of the statue with no external support (the reinforcements are modern), created a tricky problem of balance. The sculptor solved the problem by carving the outer face of each wing in one tier and slotting them into a sort of console decorated with feathers sculpted at the back of the main block forming the body. Moreover, a slight downward slope in the horizontal surface on which the wings rested meant that their weight was borne by the body, so that two metal dowels were all it took to hold them in place. This remarkably ingenious solution meant that the sculptor was able to use cantilevering in a large marble work, although the technique was normally only possible in bronze.

The base, made of 23 blocks of marble, demonstrates the same astonishing mastery of the laws of physics. On a rectangular base consisting of six adjoining slabs stand seventeen blocks, originally held together with metal pins, forming three horizontal courses, rising slightly towards the front. The course of the oar boxes at the back consists of two adjacent blocks, the deck of three. The gap at the back of the top level was not part of the original work. It housed a large block weighing slightly over two metric tons, left in Samothrace, with a cavity into which the statue was slotted. When the block was in place, it acted as a counterbalance for the oar boxes extending from the sides of the ship.

As can be seen, only a small part at the back of the long block forming the forepart of the keel rests on the pedestal, yet it remains stable and even bears the weight of the upper blocks. How is this possible? When the statue is fixed into position in the cavity, its center of gravity is directly over the short back part, weighing down on it with 2.5 to 3 metric tons of marble. This holds the front of the prow up in the air. This complex system was designed to give the stone keel the natural appearance and dynamic forward thrust of a genuine wooden ship. The statue thus played an essential role in maintaining the balance of the work as a whole. It could not be shifted without the entire front of the ship collapsing.

Now we have looked at the pose of the statue, the form of the ship as a whole, and the carefully designed relationship between the two, we can suggest how the monument might originally have looked. The statue and its base clearly belong together, and were obviously designed together as a single monument by a sculptor of great virtuosity, even genius.
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© Photo RMN / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowski
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Cécile Dégremont
The blocks making up the base

Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect
Cross section at the rear

Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect
Back view of the base

© Musée du Louvre / Anne Chauvet
Lartos marble
L. 165 cm; W. 71 cm; H. 61 cm
Samothrace, sanctuary of the Great Gods
Block from the upper part of the base
Lartos marble
L. 165 cm; W. 71 cm; H. 61 cm
Samothrace, sanctuary of the Great Gods

© New York University / B. Wescoat
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369
Winged Victory of Samothrace
circa 220-185 BC
Samothrace
Parian marble for the statue and gray Rhodian marble for the boat and base
total H. 5.57 m
Champoiseau expeditions of 1863, 1879 and 1891
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 2369

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Cécile Dégremont
Diagram of the placement of the statue on the base

Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect
3rd-2nd century BC
Marble
H. 37 cm; W. 53 cm
Samothrace, sanctuary of the Great Gods
Relief: battleship
3rd-2nd century BC
Marble
H. 37 cm; W. 53 cm
Samothrace, sanctuary of the Great Gods

© 2004 Claude Rolley
Reconstruction of the complete monument

Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect
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The context

Discovery and restoration

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The island of Samothrace is located in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Thrace, in north-eastern Greece. The island is a tall mountain that rises above the waves. On its northern side, in a gully carved by a torrent at the foot of the mountain, is a very ancient sanctuary dedicated to the Great Gods or Kabeiroi.

In March 1863, Charles Champoiseau, temporary French vice-consul in Adrianople – modern-day Edirne, in Turkey – set out to explore the ruins. He was a keen amateur archaeologist, and hoped to find some attractive relics for the imperial museum in Paris.

On April 15, 1863, workers excavating the far end of the terrace overlooking the sanctuary to the west uncovered various parts of a large female statue. They continued digging to find the head and arms, but in vain. They did, however, find numerous small fragments of drapery and feathers, leading Champoiseau to the correct conclusion that the statue represented the goddess Victory. He sent the statue and the fragments to France, where they arrived at the Louvre a year later, on May 11, 1864. After careful restoration work, the main block, consisting of the legs and lower torso, was put on display in 1866.

Alongside the statue, Champoiseau had discovered the ruins of a small building and a pile of large blocks of grey marble. He left them in place, thinking they were part of a tomb. In 1875, the architect of the Austrian archaeological mission working on the Samothrace sanctuary examined the blocks, producing drawings of them. He concluded that correctly assembled, they would form the prow of a ship constituting the base for a statue. He thought of Greek coins he had seen dating from the reign of Demetrius Poliorcetes, depicting Victory standing on the prow of a ship. Champoiseau heard about this discovery in 1879, and set about having the blocks from the prow sent to Paris, along with the slabs from the pedestal beneath. The first attempt to put the two parts together in the courtyard of the Louvre proved they were on the right track.

Félix Ravaisson Mollien, the then curator in charge of Antiquities, considered recreating the complete monument, following the model suggested by the Austrian team. The main features of this were as follows: the right side of the marble torso was placed in position on the body, the left side and the belt were recreated in plaster. The left wing was put together from several marble fragments and strengthened at the back by a metal frame before being put in place. As only two fragments of the right wing survived, it was replaced by a mirror-image cast of the left wing. Only the head, arms, and feet were not remodeled. The statue was placed directly on the ship, whose blocks were shaped and the gaps filled. Neither the ornamentation on the prow nor the rams were recreated. The restoration work was completed in 1884.

The monument was placed at the top of the recently completed Daru staircase, creating a spectacular visual effect. To heighten the visual impact yet further, a modern block was added between the statue and its base during renovations in 1934.
Map of Greece, 7th–1st centuries BC

© Musée du Louvre, documentation du département des AGER
Map of the island of Samothrace

© Collection QUID
The island of Samothrace

© Néguine Mathieux / Franck Kausch
Landscape on the island of Samothrace

© Néguine Mathieux / Franck Kausch
Charles Champoiseau in 1863

© Musée du Louvre, documentation du département des AGER
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Ma4958, Ma4959A, Ma4959B, Ma4966, Ma4967
Fragments collected by Champoiseau with the Victory
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Ma4958, Ma4959A, Ma4959B, Ma4966, Ma4967

© Musée du Louvre / P. Lebaube
First presentation of the Victory at the Louvre in the Salle des Caryatides (1866)

© ARR
Paris, Archives des Musées Nationaux
Reconstruction of the "tomb" imagined by Champoiseau
Paris, Archives des Musées Nationaux

National Museum Archives
Drawing of the lower course blocks by the architect A. Hauser

© Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Winckelmann-Institut
Drawing of the oar box blocks by the architect A. Hauser

© Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Winckelmann-Institut
301-292 BC
Silver
Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Médailles
Tetradrachm (four drachma coin) of Demetrius Poliorcetes
301-292 BC
Silver
Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Médailles

© Photo Bibliothèque Nationale de France
First attempt at assembly in a courtyard at the Louvre (1879)

Archives, private coll.
Plaster
Lost
O. Benndorf and K. von Zumbusch
A model of the Winged Victory of Samothrace
Plaster
Lost

Berlin University
front
Parts restored in plaster
front

© Photo RMN / Colors by Guillaume Foret
left side
Parts restored in plaster
left side

© Photo RMN / Colors by Guillaume Foret
right side
Parts restored in plaster
right side

© Photo RMN / Colors by Guillaume Foret
The restored monument, after 1884

© Musée du Louvre, documentation du département des AGER
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The sanctuary

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The sanctuary of Samothrace, famed throughout Antiquity, consisted of a cluster of buildings dedicated to the worship of the Great Gods and ceremonial Mysteries. Hordes of pilgrims, many from Greek cities in Asia Minor, came to be initiated into these mysterious rites.

In the fourth century BC, the kings of Macedonia oversaw a program to enlarge and improve the religious buildings, which came to take up all the ground space in the heart of the sanctuary. The sanctuary thus had to be extended, and work began on the heights overlooking the site. A monumental entrance was built to the east. The top of the hill to the west was flattened to form a terrace and a long portico was built, surrounded by buildings and offerings dedicated by wealthy pilgrims.

At the southern tip of the terrace, the side of the hill was hollowed out to house the statue of Victory, in the highest and most remote part of the shrine. The monument stood in a small building, of which only the foundations remain, protected by recently restored retaining walls but partly hidden under rocks from landslides. The building had three walls, opening at the front onto the terrace with its portico. Given the excellent state of preservation of the Victory’s marble surface, the building would certainly have had a roof. From the evidence of the foundations, the Victory was placed not perpendicular to the back wall of the building, but at a slight angle. Visitors arriving from the portico thus had a three-quarters left view of the monument.

The monumental Victory was just one of the countless offerings made at the sanctuary. The Great Gods of Samothrace were invoked by initiates for protection in situations of danger, for example the threat of shipwreck or battle. A stele in Larissa, Thessaly, dedicated to the Theoi Megaloi or Great Gods, depicts them as horsemen galloping across the heavens like the Dioscuri, accompanying a winged Victory bearing a wreath. She is bringing it for the man who dedicated the stele, shown at the bottom with his wife preparing a banquet in honor of the gods.

So an offering representing a Victory on the prow of a battleship is perfectly suited to the site. It was doubtless consecrated in thanks to the gods after a victorious naval battle. Unfortunately, the excavations have not uncovered the dedicatory inscription, which would tell us the circumstances whereby the monument was built, the name of the donor, and maybe even the identity of the sculptor.
Aerial view of the sanctuary of the Great Gods

© New York University / J. Kurtisch
View of the Hieron from the Winged Victory building

© Marsyas
Overall layout of the sanctuary

© New York University / J. Kurtisch
Ruins of the Winged Victory building

® 1992, California State University Northridge, Pr John Paul Adams
2nd century BC
Larissa
Marble
H. 63.5 cm
Heuzey and Daumet expedition
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 746
Votive stele dedicated to the Great Gods
2nd century BC
Larissa
Marble
H. 63.5 cm
Heuzey and Daumet expedition
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 746

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / P. Lebaube
2nd century BC
Larissa
Marble
H. 63.5 cm
Heuzey and Daumet expedition
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 746
Votive stele dedicated to the Great Gods (detail)
2nd century BC
Larissa
Marble
H. 63.5 cm
Heuzey and Daumet expedition
Paris, Musée du Louvre, MA 746

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / P. Lebaube
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Provenance and dating

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No statues produced anywhere throughout the Greek world during the Hellenistic period bear comparison with the Victory of Samothrace. Only the drapery effects on the goddesses in the Parthenon pediments are comparable, as if, two and a half centuries later, the sculptor wanted to test his skill against the great masters of Attic sculpture from the fifth century BC.

One thing we do know is that the technique of sculpting the body in several blocks prior to assembly was used above all in the workshops of Asia Minor, the Dodecanese, and the Cyclades.

The Victory’s base was certainly produced in Rhodes, where a number of workshops specialized in carving bases from Lartos marble. Some experts have thus concluded that the statue as a whole was made in Rhodes and that the work was an offering by the people of Rhodes to the sanctuary in Samothrace. However, there is no clear evidence that the statue, like the base, was sculpted on Rhodes, as the virtuoso handling of the drapery certainly called for more skill than would have been found in the type of workshops that produced the base.

Sculptures from the highly productive workshops of Pergamon, capital of the Attalid dynasty, in Asia Minor, offer a better comparison. The Great Altar in particular is close in style to the Victory of Samothrace, especially the Gigantomachy frieze decorating the base. Hundreds of gods, goddesses, and monstrous giants, carved in very high relief, do battle across the panels. The vigor of the bodies, the emphatic poses, and the scene’s remarkable energy create a striking connection between the frieze and the statue, and it is possible that both exceptional monuments were the work of a single artist, whose name, unfortunately, has not survived.

Nor is the date of consecration of the Victory of Samothrace, or the naval battle the statue commemorates, known. The eastern Mediterranean saw many battles between rival fleets following the accession of Philip V of Macedonia in 221 BC. Philip’s defeat in 197 BC and the humiliating defeat of the ruler of Antioch at the hands of the Pergamon forces in 189 BC led to the end of such naval battles. After that, there were no further battles of the sort commemorated by the Victory of Samothrace for many years. It thus seems likely that the sculptor worked on the Victory in Samothrace between 220 and 185 BC, before beginning work on the Great Altar of Pergamon.
442-432 BC
Acropolis of Athens
Marble
London, British Museum
Iris, statue from the west pediment of the Parthenon
442-432 BC
Acropolis of Athens
Marble
London, British Museum

© Erich Lessing
442-432 BC
Acropolis of Athens
Marble
London, British Museum
Artemis, statue from the east pediment of the Parthenon
442-432 BC
Acropolis of Athens
Marble
London, British Museum

© The Trustees of The British Museum
Map of Greece in 7th–1st century BC

© Musée du Louvre, documentation du département des AGER
circa 265-260 BC
Lartos marble
Lindos, island of Rhodes, sanctuary of Athena
Base in the shape of a ship's prow, three-quarter view
circa 265-260 BC
Lartos marble
Lindos, island of Rhodes, sanctuary of Athena

© 22nd Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Rhodes
circa 200 BC
Lindos, island of Rhodes, sanctuary of Athena
Relief showing the stern of a ship
circa 200 BC
Lindos, island of Rhodes, sanctuary of Athena

© ARR
200-150 BC
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Statue of a woman with a sword
200-150 BC
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

© ARR
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
The Great Altar of Pergamon
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
Great Altar, east frieze
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Athena fighting the giant Alkyoneus
Great Altar, east frieze
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
Great Altar, west frieze
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Triton and Amphitrite
Great Altar, west frieze
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
Great Altar, south frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Phoebe and Asteria
Great Altar, south frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
Great Altar, east frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Athena fighting the giant Alkyoneus (detail)
Great Altar, east frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
Great Altar, west frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Amphitrite
Great Altar, west frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
Great Altar, west frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung
Triton and a Giant
Great Altar, west frieze (detail)
2nd century BC
Acropolis of Pergamon
Marble
Berlin, Pergamonmuseum, Antikensammlung

BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN / Johannes Laurentius
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Victories and Angels

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The Greeks represented concepts such as Peace, Fortune, Vengeance, and Justice as goddesses at a very early date. Victory was one of the earliest of these incarnations. She is a female figure with large wings that enable her to fly over the earth spreading news of victory, whether in athletic competition or in battle. She is a messenger (angelos in Greek) who sometimes uses a trumpet to make her message better heard. As she flies, she brings the victor the insignia of victory – a crown, fillet, palm, trophy of arms, or naval trophy. Once back on earth, she takes part in the libation or sacrifice made by the victor to thank the gods.

Victory is an extremely decorative figure who appeared widely in Greek art from the Archaic period (sixth century BC) onwards. She is found in a multiplicity of forms – statues, reliefs, vessels, coins, and terracotta or bronze figurines. Such figures followed the stylistic evolution of Greek art, undergoing constant development. As the Victory of Samothrace shows, the figure still featured in spectacular works of art in the Hellenistic period.

The Romans discovered the goddess Victory when they conquered the Greek world. They immediately adopted and adapted her as a symbol of Rome’s domination of the known world (orbi), an incarnation of imperial power, and an emblem of the virtue of the Roman people. She is shown standing on a globe, crowning the emperor and holding a shield inscribed with the glory of Rome. Yet her appearance was still that most commonly found in Greek art – she was depicted standing, wearing a woman’s chiton belted under the breasts, with a fold hanging down to the hips.

With the advent of Christianity came God’s messengers or angels. Angels holding globes and crosses stood close to God as representations of his power and glory. However, although angels owed part of their role to Greek and Roman representations of Victory, their image was rather different. Early Christian depictions of angels show them with a halo and dressed in male garb typical of Antiquity – a long, wide-sleeved tunic covered with a pallium, or long cloak, worn draped diagonally across the chest or thrown over the shoulders. They were winged messengers who came down from heaven to announce God’s will to mankind.

Angels only began to wear female garments in the late medieval period, when the draped cloak was no more than a small drapery worn like a shawl and the tunic became an elegant tight-sleeved gown with a high waist. The artistic popularity of antique models during the Italian Quattrocento meant that angels began to resemble female Victories, although the Christian context leaves no doubt as to their identity.
circa 375-350 BC
Bronze
H. 12.3 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Br1679
Applied figure of Nike (Victory)
circa 375-350 BC
Bronze
H. 12.3 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Br1679

© Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
301-292 BC
Silver
Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Médailles
Tetradrachm (four drachma coin) of Demetrius Poliorcetes
301-292 BC
Silver
Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Médailles

© Photo Bibliothèque Nationale de France
circa 490-480 BC
Clay
H. 32.3 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, S 3853
Attic red-figure amphora, attributed to Douris
circa 490-480 BC
Clay
H. 32.3 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, S 3853

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Sophie Marmois
circa 420 BC
Olympia
Parian marble
H. 2.11 m
Greece, Olympia Museum
Paionios of Mende
Statue: Nike (Victory)
circa 420 BC
Olympia
Parian marble
H. 2.11 m
Greece, Olympia Museum

© ARR
circa 175-150 BC
Myrina
Clay
H. 29 cm
French School in Athens devolution
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Myr 165
Statuette: Nike (Victory)
circa 175-150 BC
Myrina
Clay
H. 29 cm
French School in Athens devolution
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Myr 165

© Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
176-180 AD
Rome
Marble
H. 3.50 m
Rome, Palazzo dei Conservatori, MC 0808
Marcus Aurelius in his triumphal chariot: relief from the Arch of Marcus Aurelius
176-180 AD
Rome
Marble
H. 3.50 m
Rome, Palazzo dei Conservatori, MC 0808

© Erich Lessing
2nd century BC
Terracotta
Diam. 10 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, CP 4409
Roman lamp (Victory)
2nd century BC
Terracotta
Diam. 10 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre, CP 4409

© Photo RMN / All rights reserved
6-7th century AD
Mosaic
Kitio (Cyprus), Palagia Aggeloktisti monastery
Archangel Gabriel
6-7th century AD
Mosaic
Kitio (Cyprus), Palagia Aggeloktisti monastery

© ARR
early 6th century AD
Mosaic
Ravenna, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, upper register of the nave
The Judgment of the Nations (detail)
early 6th century AD
Mosaic
Ravenna, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, upper register of the nave

© 1990. Photo Scala, Florence - courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali
circa 1490 - 1500
Painting on wood
H. 1.58 m; W. 1.07 m
Paris, Musée du Louvre, INV 1410
Carlo Braccesco
Triptych, central panel: The Annunciation
circa 1490 - 1500
Painting on wood
H. 1.58 m; W. 1.07 m
Paris, Musée du Louvre, INV 1410

© Photo RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
15th century
Fresco
H. 2.30 m; W. 3.21 m
Italy, Florence, Museo di San Marco,  OBN-F-000057-0000
Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico
The Annunciation
15th century
Fresco
H. 2.30 m; W. 3.21 m
Italy, Florence, Museo di San Marco, OBN-F-000057-0000

Alinari Archives, Florence, Dist RMN / Nicolo Orsi Battaglini
15th century
Painting
H. 1.50 m; W. 1.56 m
Italy, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi
Sandro Botticelli
The Annunciation
15th century
Painting
H. 1.50 m; W. 1.56 m
Italy, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

© Photo RMN / Agence Bulloz
Alabaster
Berlin, Marienkirche
Andreas Schlüter
Sculpted pulpit
Alabaster
Berlin, Marienkirche


© 2008 Valérie Foret
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