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Parian marble sculpture at The Louvre

23 Oct 2017Arts Essays

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the most celebrated visual art sculptures in the world from the Hellenistic era. The sculpture depicts the goddess Nike as she descends from the sky with outstretched wings over her shoulders. It originally formed part of the Samothrace temple that was an homage to the gods. Victory was situated at the prow of the ship in her triumphant pose. Before this statue of Nike lost her arms, they were cupped around her mouth in an effort to announce the Greek victory at Lartos.

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This statue is notable of the Hellenistic era due to its naturalistic pose and the way her garment appears to be flowing so effortlessly. The wind blown garment gives the impression of motion and movement, as if being blown by the breeze of the sea. Given that she was placed at the prow of the ship, the sculpture was a stunning and emphatic symbol for reestablishing the grandeur of Greek civilization after the struggles and battles of the Peloponnesian War that involved all of the Greek city-states, including Athens. In the wake of the poverty following the war, Greek art had very little resources to finance many sculptures. In this way, the sculptures that were created tended to reflect the changing state of affairs in Greek society.

The most notable trend during the Hellenistic era was the portrayal of individual gods and goddesses in natural poses that displayed a great range of emotions. It is unknown who actually created the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but whoever it was continued this trend and expanded upon it with the insertion of the flowing garments and the wings. Nike's body is in a state of returning from motion and her left leg is strong and shown bare out the side of the garment. Her chest is pressed out in a posture of confidence and femininity and you can almost see through the garments enough to make out the shape of her skin and the contours of her stomach. Her head is absent on her shoulders and has never been found, although other portions of her body that have fallen off have been recovered. This statue demonstrates the mastery of movement and form being perfected during this era, despite its current incompleteness.

This piece of infamous art embodies the return to reality following a devastating period of violence and war. Greek artists sought to capture the human form in all of its naturalness, expressing the emotions and postures that came to define this era. Winged Victory of Samothrace continues and expands this style of the Hellenistic age with its emphasis of grace and beauty in the flowing attire of the goddess Nike returning from the sky with the message of Victory.

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