Nike Monument

21 May 2015
Anandi Salinas
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First half of the 2nd century B.C.
Retaining walls composed of basalt fieldstones; building constructed in pebbly calcareous sandstone
Statue constructed of at least eight fitted components carved in Parian; the base was Lartian blue marble from Rhodes


IMG_5134The most famous monument of Samothrace and one of the earliest discoveries, the great marble winged female figure of Victory (Nike in Greek) deftly alights on the prow of a warship that appears to move swiftly forward. The statue—which rises to a preserved height of 5.57 m—exemplifies the movement, gesture, and rich texturing of the finest Hellenistic sculpture.  Her wings are blown back behind her, with the right wing, as we now know, rising higher and more windswept than the left. Her chiton billows over her thigh, chest, and stomach, clinging to her body, while her himation gathers between her striding legs, around her hips and flys out behind, creating a contrast between smooth skin and textures of cloth. The base of the statue was oriented at an oblique angle so that the Nike faced northeastward into the heart of the Sanctuary.   The statue exemplifies the movement, gesture, and rich texturing of the finest Hellenistic sculpture. The Nike is carved from creamy Parian marble, while the ship is made of the variegated dark blue Rhodian marble from Lartos.

The statue was originally set within a deep rectangular niche cut into the hillside that forms the southern boundary of the sanctuary above the Theater, where it was visible form many vantages within the Sanctuary.The rectangular building framing the statue consists today of a krepis with at least two steps. Above the preserved southern retaining wall, remains of a terracotta pipe suggested to K. Lehmann that the monument was a fountain.  Now that option appears unlikely, but scholars remain divided on whether the Nike was set in an open peribolos or stood within a roofed building.  The current boulder retaining walls clearly post-date the ashlar krepis. They belong to the Imperial period, when the monument was reconfigured.

Although the building and its precinct are modest in comparison to the statue, it demonstrates the dramatic position of the statue within the sacred space and the pivotal role the statue served in visually uniting the Theater with the Stoa.DSCN0809 map
Despite the fame of the statue today, its ancient context remains elusive.  Scholars do not agree on the date of the dedication, the donor, or the event it commemorates. Nike must commemorate a great victory; the prominence of the ship suggests that the victory was a naval engagement or an achievement accomplished through naval supremacy. Both the material of the base and its form are intimately connected with the island of Rhodes, whose navy was particularly accomplished and powerful at the end of the 3rd and early 2ndcentury B.C.

The Nike was found in April of 1863 by a French expedition led by the amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, vice-consul to Adrianople (modern Edirne).  Most of the remains were sent to Paris, where the reconstructed statue was installed in the Louvre in 1884. The statue was later installed on the landing of the Daru staircase, where it has been reinstalled after cleaning and restoration in 2014-2015.  In 1950, part of her right hand was discovered and joined with a thumb and ring finger that had been discovered by Austrian archaeologists. The hand is now on loan to the Louvre, and several important objects from Samothrace in the Louvre collection are not on loan to the Samothrace Archaeological Museum. More recently discovered fragments are in the Samothrace Archaeological Museum.

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Selected Bibliography:

Hamiaux, M. 1998. “La Victoire de Samothrace. Mode d’assemblage de la statue,” CRAI pp.        365-376.

Hamiaux, M. 2001. “La Victoire de Samothrace. Découverte et restauration,”JSav pp. 152-223.

Hamiaux, M.  2006. “La victoire de Samothrace. Construction de la base e reconstitution,”           MonPiot 85, pp. 5-60.

Hamiaux, M.  2007. La Victoire de Samothrace. Paris.

Knell, H. 1995. Die Nike von Samothrake. Typus, Form, Bedeutung und Wirkungsgeschichte         eines rhodischen Sieges-Anathems im Kabirenheiligtum von Samothrake. Darmstadt.

Lehmann, K. 1952. “Samothrace: Fifth Preliminary Report,” Hesperia 21, pp. 19-43.

Louvre website.  “A Closer Look at the Winged Victory of Samothrace,”
http://www.louvre.fr/llv/dossiers/liste_oal.jsp?bmLocale=en

Mark, I. 1998. “The Victory of Samothrace,” in Regional Schools in Hellenistic Sculpture, ed.             O. Palagia and W. Coulson, Oxford, pp. 157-165.
Ridgway, B. S. 2000. Hellenistic Sculpture II, Madison, Wisc.