Wandering Bard: France (Nike of Samothrace)

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Wandering Bard
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You guys want to go to France this week? Yeah? Me too! Let’s go. 🙂

France was one of the most intimidating places I have ever been. We were told all sorts of scary stories about how the French hate Americans, how you have to say bonjour and au revoir as you enter and exit every shop, and how you can’t look any of them directly in the eyes.

Okay, I made that last one up. It was just the irrational fear talking.

Actually, you’ll be quite happy to know that the French were pretty awesome. Yes, there were some that were a little stiff – but isn’t it like that in every country? Some were positively delighted to share their wealth of knowledge with us youngsters (most of us on the trip were college-age) and genuinely wanted us to have a good time while we were in their country. As strange as this sounds, I felt less out of place in France than I did in some of the other countries that I have visited. Being in Paris sort of felt like being in New York City.

So, with that in mind, take a step off the plane with confidence and know that you’re with friends! We’re in Paris now, right outside the Louvre.

You may recognize this if you’ve seen The Da Vinci Code, as Robert Langdon (played by the amazing Tom Hanks) spends a fair amount of time in and around the museum during his trip to France. It’s pretty awesome to see in person, even if the Parisians aren’t all too thrilled with it yet. And even better is the view just across the way:

This is not in any way the best place to view the Eiffel Tower, but it definitely got me excited to see it up close!

Anyway, let’s move on, shall we? We’re inside the Louvre now, wandering the halls and grand galleries. This place houses some of my all time favorite pieces of art. The amount of history found in this single building literally gets my heart racing. [WARNING: Nerd Moment Detected] If I had to choose just one single piece to see (as hard as that may sound) it would be the one below.

May I proudly introduce Nike of Samothrace. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? Nike is the Greek goddess of Victory and is often associated with past victories as well as hope for new ones. This particular statue was on a pedestal that was supposed to represent the prow of a ship, indicating the hope for a naval victory. Pretty awesome, right? And I’m sure I know your number one question right now:

Um, where’s her head?

Oh, you noticed that, huh? Well, it’s missing. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!) We’re not really sure what happened to it (or her arms, for that matter…), other than it probably was broken or destroyed in some way or another. Even without a head or a face, though, the beauty of this statue is undeniable. This is from Ancient Greece, so it’s well before the masterpiece we saw last time, yet it seems just as beautifully carved and lifelike.

Let get to the good stuff now.

Interpretations:

– The base of the pedestal was a part of a two-tiered fountain. The splashing water added an auditory experience to the visual one and reminded viewers of the ocean and its splashing waves. Opposite of this statue sat another fountain that looked like jagged rocks, making it seem like Nike was guiding the ship to safety.

– The wind that blows her dress and the surrounding ocean are metaphors for struggle of any kind, but particularly those found in battle.

– It also suggests that the battle will be won if the soldiers believe in the gods and trust in them to help.

Cool Facts:

– This is from the 2nd century BC, which means that it is well over TWO THOUSAND YEARS OLD.

– This is considered one of the most prized possessions of the Louvre.

– Her hand and some fingers were discovered separately and are now reunited – they sit in a case near the statue.

– This is a break from earlier statues where the figures were ideal and self contained. Nike interacts with her environment and looks like she will come to life at any moment.

– This was originally set on a cliff, which would just add to the display as the viewers heard the ocean and felt the strong wind blowing.

Why I Love It:

I have to admit that it probably wouldn’t matter what this statue actually looked like, because I’d still love it. I love the idea of it. The fact that some ancient Greek carved this with his bare hands. The fact that it depicts my favorite subject: mythology. The fact that it has survived for so long, against all odds.

There are other more technical reasons, too. The use of wet drapery (that’s what we call the style where the clothes seems to cling to the body) is incredible. The shape of the body and the folds in the fabric are so natural. The realism in general is just incredible. Just think that this was done with a hammer, a chisel, and a lot of hard work – well before the invention of any modern technology. This took pure and raw talent to create.  And lastly, I love that even though the statue is utterly still and made of solid rock, you can just about feel the wind blowing against her gown and see her landing on that boat with her hands raised in victory.

What do YOU guys think? Does the lack of a head really throw you off, or do you overlook it in order to focus on the beauty that the rest of the statue holds? We’ll be heading somewhere else next week (and I’ll make sure we talk about something other than a statue), so get your passports ready!

 

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Comments
  1. I LOVE Winged Victory too! It was one of the few things that absolutely had to see during my brief visit to the Louvre. (The Mona Lisa being another must-see). She’s absolutely stunning in person!

  2. ddog13 says:

    The Mona Lisa…very interesting painting. There’s a lot of conspiracy surrounding it. It brings you back to Da Vinci, who’s a very conspiricical (made that word up right now) painter. Glad you enjoyed the trip. I was watching the game show “Cash Cab” and the Nike statue was in a video bonus question. The contestants were asked which goddess it was, and they said either Athena or Aphrodite. haha

    • Karen Rought says:

      There’s a lot of conspiracy surrounding much of Da Vinci’s work, but I’m not necessarily convinced all of it is founded. I studied a lot of his works in school (my degree is in Art History) and most of it is a stretch, to say the least. I do love Dan Brown’s novels, though, because even though it might not be real, it’s so logical and well researched that it makes for a wonderful book. ARGH. That bugs me, because Athena and Aphrodite don’t have wings, lol. Although Nike is often associated with Athena, so I can at least see the connection there. And, I guess, cupid has wings, so I can see why they might have thought Aphrodite. Still – they should know better!

  3. Julie Glover says:

    I would love to go to the Louvre. Definitely on my list of must-see places. Thanks for sharing.

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