Art History Nike of Samothrace

“Nike of Samothrace” was sculpted in second century AD during the hellenistic culture. This 8ft high sculpture was found on an island called Samothrace, north of the Aegean, and though beautifully carved, the artist is not known. It was discovered at a sanctuary in a harbor that faced the predominate wind. It was as if the wind was blowing directly on the sculpture itself. The Nike was made to act like a figure head on the prow of a ship, and though it never really was on a ship, it was the bow of a stone ship in a temple like building.
The “Nike of Samothrace” is greatly appreciated because of the strong force of motion, and realistic qualities, as well as its symbolic references to the Greek culture. The Greeks period has come a long way when we look at the way the Archaic/Egyptian period and Hellenistic period carved and shaped people. The Archaic and Egyptians sculpted people and clothes flat and simple. Their bodies did not twist very much and were pretty straight. The clothes on the people were basically just lines, or slits in the stone, and was not really realistic.
Comparing this to the way the Hellenistic period carved their people, they used a lot of motion and movement. There people twisted in different directions as they would in real life, and their clothes were deeply carved and looked very real. The “Nike of Samothrace” was carved out of marble, and accurately shows texture in the wings, and the folds in the cloth. The Greek culture had studied and celebrated the body and they used their knowledge to show expressive forces in their art. They used hammers and chisels to create beautiful, realistic flows on the stone, and made it look like it was actually moving.

The “Nike of Samothrace” is a carving beautiful, voluptuous woman in a flowing dress with two large wings out stretched behind her. This statue had lost her head and arms, but is still recognizable as the Nike of victory. Her body movements and intricate detail of her tunic is very dramatic as she seems to walk gracefully in a storm. The Nike was to be on the prow of a ship in the ocean, and that is strongly seen by the movement of her dress. You can practically see the strong winds whipping around her body as her skirt is blown behind and around her.
The drapery is very graceful and strong as it is pulled in the direction of her body and one can practically see the energy in her movements. Her body is grounded by her legs as she strides forward. Her abdomen twists slightly as if finding balance in the wind, and her wings are aloft behind her as if she just landed in from a fierce headwind. The sheer chiton that she is wearing clings to her body as if it is wet from a hefty sea spray, billowing in the wind. Her body is proportionate, and accurately depicts the perfect body scale of a Greek goddess.
The texture in her wings, and the fabric of her garment are very life-like and pick up light in their deep groves to make it look more dramatic. The artist shows how he is able to carve the female body, portray realistic cloth, and convey victory and power in this statue. It is believable and relatable to the average person because of the stance in the body and the way the a strong wind would really blow around your clothes. The Nike of Victory has been resembled before in Greek art. This goddess represented the victory over war and contests. Therefore, it was shown on Greek coins, temples, and other important objects.
The Nike of Victory is seen again in the carving “Nike Adjusting her Sandal” on the Temple of Athena. This Winged Nike leans down to adjust her sandal as her chiton slid off her shoulder. Similarly to the “Nike of Samothrace”, the “Nike Adjusting her Sandal” has large wings to balance her pose and decorative swirls of heavy pleated fabric that clings to her body. She appears to be delicate and light just as the “Nike of Samothrace”. The Nike of Victory is seen with wings, intricately carved fabric, and with the scale of the “perfect body” it shows divinity and creates something that would be desired.
She also was the messenger that spreads the news of victory, and that is something that Greeks hold in high regards and were always trying to obtain. The dramatic feel to the “Nike of Samothrace” brings out fierce emotions and give the onlooker the sense of accomplishment and encouragement. It conveys many emotions as it stands tall and strong. It’s formate of the “perfect female body” and the precise folds of the cloth in motion, relates almost exactly to the style of the three goddess on the Parthenon frieze.
However, the three goddesses appear to have just woken up from a relaxing sleep. They are calm and quiet and reveal the restful attitude of mellow goddess on Mt. Olympus. When looking at them you feel serene and peaceful, getting the calm feel of life as a god. The “Nike of Samothrace” is obviously very different in that aspect. This goddess is ready to go to war as her stance is fierce and ready for anything. The goddess is responding to energy and natural forces whereas the Parthenon frieze goddesses are tranquil, composed, and o not seem to be worrying about much at all. The Statue of “Laocoon” is a carving of Laocoon and his sons struggling against large sea serpents trying to destroy them. You can clearly see the force of motion being pulled in many different directions. With their legs pushing one way, and their arms pulling another, and then with his head cocked back, you can se the different directions his bare muscles are being strained. This statue is very dynamic and conveys an emotion of urgency and fight, just as the “Nike of Samothrace” does.
The way the Nike’s body twists and is not flat and straight, is the same as the dramatic gesture in “Laocoon”. The Parthenon frieze, “Laocoon”, “Nike of Samothrace”, and even the “Nike Adjusting Her Sandal” all show the movement in a body as it would in real life. The way the fabric falls and the twist in the body make the statues feel and look more real and relatable. At this time in Greek culture respect for the gods was immense. They believed the gods were heroes and took sides to help out; obviously you would want to be in the gods favor.
When carving the “Nike of Samothrace”, the artist made her to show the people that the gods were on their side and that they would have victory over their war and conflicts. The Nike was in the same style as all the Greek goddesses would have been, with the ideal body shape, flowing robs, and for the Nike’s, large wings. She was placed in a temple to show her importance and divinity and to represent the power that Samothrace wanted to convey. She was carved to look like a real goddess, to bring victory over their sea fair, and to relate to the Greek culture just by who she was and who she related too.

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