Alight at the Top of the Staircase
An examination of the Louvre’s recent restoration of The Winged Victory of Samothrace as a case study for right practices in contemporary restoration of Ancient statuary
by Kelly Konrad
A stroll through the tourist-swelled, though undeniably beautiful, Jardin de Tuileries gives way the palatial expanse of the Palais du Louvre, France’s most illustrious museum. As its director Henri Loyrette expresses, the Louvre serves as “a mirror of human existence, passions, and sentiments, a world in which we can all find something in ourselves, of our lives, thoughts and deeds.”1 Amongst the Louvre’s immense collection of treasures, stands The Winged Victory of Samothrace, referred to interchangeably as the Winged Nike of Samothrace. Positioned “in splendid isolation”2 atop the Daru staircase—the most frequented of the Louvre’—and standing at nearly three meters high, this Winged Victory exudes energy, sensuality and power “as she hurtles into space, her chiton blown back” against her body so that her powerful legs remain visible. Ludovic Laugier, a Curator at the Louvre, describes the Winged Victory, as an “essential work” that “immediately draws attention.”3 Sculpted in high quality Paros marble in approximately 190 BCE by an unknown artist, this Winged Victory commenced her Parisian séjour after her discovery at the Greek island of Samothrace in Aegean Sea by French diplomat Charles Champoiseau in 1863. Upon her initial arrival to the Louvre, four early restoration efforts ensued, the last of which ended in 1934.4 Upon her one hundred and fifty year anniversary with the Louvre in 2013, another intensive restoration effort, costing more than four million euros, commenced. Now complete, the Winged Victory’s restoration may serve as a model for contemporary
1 Leo Schofield, “Behind the Louvre Doors,” Australian Gourmet Traveller 7, no. 11 (2007) : 206-214, doi: 2 Ibid.
3 Jamey Keaten, “Louvre’s Winged Victory,” Associated Press, September 3, 2013.
restoration of ancient statuary for its international scope, use of integrative technologies, and crowdsource funding efforts. This paper seeks to synthesize the Winged Victory’s ancient, nineteenth-century, World War II-era, and contemporary histories while providing a case study for right practices contemporary restoration of monumental ancient statuary.
First, for her Story
This monumental sculpture represents a winged female figure, that of Victory—the messenger goddess often credited with spreading the news of victory in war and athletic games alike in Ancient Greece.5 The very moment depicted, selected approximately 2,200 years ago from an unknown sculptor, portrays Victory as she ends her flight, landing on the prow of ship. Presently headless, footless, and armless, separate pieces of stone—though not so many as before —constitute the Winged Victory. Her striking impact results from a sculptor’s superb naturalistic skill as well as ability to manipulate elements so as create a palpable sense of drama: a forward- striding forward right leg matched with splayed wings and a tilted torso. Together these elements “create a series of boldly opposing diagonals that enhance the impression of (…) motion.”6 As art historian Lauren Kinnee expresses, “As she advance agains the invisible force of the wind, the Nike becomes a dramatic study of conflicting forces and counter forces”—as evidenced in the twisting of the body.7 Her drapery, clinging in “thin, long, and uneven ripples to her breasts, abdomen, right leg” serves to emphasize both the dynamism of her forward movement against a strong gust of wind as well her “full, robust form—her powerful thighs and the active, contracted
5 “A brief history of the Winged Victory of Samothrace,” American Friends of the Louvre, accessed April 19, 2015,http:// www.aflouvre.org/winged-victory-of-samothrace
6 Lauren Kinnee, “The Nike of Samothrace,” 40. (New Haven: Yale, 2002), http://www.yale.edu/heyzeus/
muscles of her torso.”8 The near transparent quality of her drapery reveals the form of the Victory in such a way that she appears nearly nude. Echoing the V-shape of the drapery surrounding Victory’s pelvis, her intensely naturalistic wings “contribute to the uneven, chaotic, and exuberantly active tone of the statue.”9 Her wings appear as pushed as far back as possible and extended to their full length—thus mimicking the behavior of bird just alit on a branch. Though her wings’ construction—“from their curved crests to the joint midway through, to their outspread textured feathers”—reveal her sculptor’s great attention to naturalistic detail, they “lack the regular fan-like arrangement found in real birds”10 Instead, the sculptor chose to position the feathers at odd and overlapping angles—seemingly random in the same manner as the Victory’s drapery folds. This “combination of naturalism and exaggerated irregularity”—a pairing of a “very corporeal body and realistic, though non-ideal wings” grants the Winged Victory her sense of urgency. The feathers of her wings continue to ruffle scholars into the twenty-first century.
Dating to the Hellenistic era of Ancient Greece, The Winged Victory of Samothrace may have served as an offering to the great gods of Samothrace following a naval victory.11 As Bonna Wescoat, American art historian and contributor to the Victory’s restoration efforts, explains, “Nike is the personification, the embodiment of victory in war or in competition. We see her hovering over contestants in scenes of chariot races, crowning the victor, or making offerings; statues of Nike are often dedicated in sanctuaries as symbols of a victory.”12
10 Ibid., 41.
11 “A brief history of the Winged Victory of Samothrace,” American Friends of the Louvre.
12 Leslie King, “With help from Emory scholars, Winged Victory returns to flight at the Louvre,” Emory Report, July 31, 2014, http://news.emory.edu/stories/2014/07/er_winged_victory_at_louvre%20/campus.html.
Additionally, Wescoat describes the the placement of the Winged Victory as brilliant, for “the statue served as the visual pivot” in the Sanctuary of Great Gods, a complex of a dozen temples dedicated to different deities popular in antiquity.13 Kinnee describes the ancient role of Samothrace as a site “known for both its mystery cult and its position on an important but stormy lane.” Thus, the Samothracian Sanctuary of Great Gods, likely served as an entertainment zone of sorts, particularly for religious pilgrims. After having completed an initiation ceremony, these pilgrims celebrated their both journeys’ end and their own personal victories with elaborate feasting and theatrical performances.14 This religious center gradually faded in importance as the popularity of Christianity rose.15
Additionally, from her vantage point, this Winged Victory would have appeared to behold travelers arriving to the island from sea. Though perhaps of even greater political importance, travelers would have beheld her—the powerful, energized form of Victory herself—as a visual marker of triumph in their approach to the island of Samothrace. As Kinnee explains, “The viewer was thus expected to experience the Nike as part of a realistic seascape diorama.”16 Additional scholarly, though inconclusive, evidence suggests that this Winged Victory may have served as the centerpiece in a fountain construction on the Samothracian Sanctuary of Great Gods.17
Despite her centuries of physical survival, little to no literary or epigraphical reference to this Winged Victory survive. Sans such crucial evidence, scholars continue to debate even the most
14 Kinnee, “Nike of Samothrace,” 39.
15 Inti Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back,” The Wall Street Journal (blog), July 8, 2014, (5:04 p.m., http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/07/08/the-louvres-winged-victory-of-samothrace-is-back/.
16 Kinnee, “Nike of Samothrace,” 44. 17 Ibid.
crucial questions surrounding the sculpture, such as “Who made her?”, “Precisely when?”, and perhaps most essential: “Why?”. Without answers, scholars often grant this Winged Victory a vague treatment—“commenting on the statue’s beauty but hesitating to speculate about what deeper reaction it may have been intended to evoke in the ancient Greek spectator.”18 Defying this tradition, Kinnee suggests this Winged Victory exists as a Pergamene dedication serving to memorialize the “Pergamene-engineered Roman capture in 166 BC of King Perseus, last of the Macedonians, at the island of Samothrace.” Thus, according to Kinnee, this Winged Victory belongs to the Attalid tradition of generosity, intellectualism, and claim to the Classical Athenian role as savior of Greek civilization.”19
Her Early Years in France
In 1863, Monsieur Champoiseau, a French diplomat, uncovered this Winged Victory,
broken into several pieces, lying in a rectangular-shaped basic upon a windy ridge overlooking the Samothracian Sanctuary of the Great Gods, and, in the distance, the roar of the Aegean Sea.20 She likely sustained her breaks in a fall from her original pedestal resulting from a natural disruption, such as an earthquake.21 Monsieur Champoiseau and his team transported the newly uncovered Winged Victory to France.These late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century restorations considerably complicated the 2013 project. Late nineteenth-century museum experts repaired theses breaks by covering the joints with plaster and then painting over their work. Additionally, as the Victory stood poised to fly without her entire right wing, museum experts created a new right wing, exactly symmetrical to the right one, entirely of plaster. Additionally, to
18 Ibid,,39-40. 19 Ibid., 40.
21 Ibid., 39.
connect the original wing to the Victory’s torso, they also recreated her missing left breast. Contemporary conservationists regard these reconstitutions as historically inaccurate.22 Yet, in an effort to resist privileging the history of one era over another, the conversation team at the Louvre will not disturb these earlier modifications. Ludovic Laugier, Head of the Antiquities Department of the Louvre, explains that the Victory stands not only as a testimony to the Hellenistic sculpture, but also as an example of nineteenth-century tastes.23
In September of 2013, the Louvre issued a press release to announce the restoration project.24 The restoration sought to clean and repair the statue’s base as well as address the significant discoloration resulting from centuries’ accumulation of dirt and grime that diminished the contrast between white tones of Winged Victory and the gray marble of boat-shaped structure on which it rests.”25 Organizers of the project anticipated that the restoration would take more than eighteen months to complete. This conversation project consisted primarily of cleaning. Once removed from its boat-shaped base, conservators will dismantle the twenty-three blocks that form the boat and pedestal. At this point, conservators will verify the assemble of the component parts and incorporate previously unused, though surviving fragments of the original sculpture— many of which were discovered quite recently.26 Additionally, the cement block previously placed between the statue and the boat will no longer serve its previously intended function, as no
22 Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back,” 23 Ibid.
24 “Conservation project for the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the monumental staircase,” Louvre, accessed April 18, 2015, http://www.louvre.fr/en/conservation-project-winged-victory-samothrace-and-monumental- staircase.
26 “Conservation project for the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the monumental staircase,” Louvre.
scientific justification exists for its presence. Coinciding with the restoration this restoration, the a team from Louvre will refurbish the walls, floors, and vaulted ceilings of the Daru staircase.27
As the Louvre anticipated, the the project unfolded in several stages. In September of
2013, conservations commenced by dismantling and removing of the monument. This restoration marks the first instance since World War II that the Winged Victory descended the Daru staircase.28 The summer of 2014 marked the triumphant reinstallation of the Winged Victory. In the spring of 2015, the Louvre inaugurated both the renovated monument and its newly refurbished surroundings. Only then, according to the Louvre, will the Winged Victory be showcased to her best advantage.29
Thus, beginning in early September of 2013, Daniel Ibled led a team of eight archeologists and conservators in the meticulous cleaning of the Winged Victory. This small international team, comprised of French, Greek, German and American archeologists, restored the marble of the statue to its original white shade, as more than a century of dust, dirt, and grime had rendered it yellow in tone.30 Restoring old, stained marble is both complicated and delicate work. The conversationist first cleaned the Victory’s white marble with compresses soaked in water—a means to simultaneously protect the integrity ancient marble and erase the layers of grime.31
Additonally, Scientist Giovanni Verri, a restoration Scientist from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, identified microscopic touches of blue paint in his analyses of the Winged Victory.
28 Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back,”
29 “Conservation project for the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the monumental staircase,” Louvre.
30 “The New Nike: Winged Victory of Samothrace,” My Parisian Island (blog), July 22, 2014,http:// www.myparisianisland.com/2014/07/the-new-nike-winged-victory-of.html.
31 Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back.” “7
These microscopic pigments suggest that the Victory was once partly colored with—at the very least—a blue fringe on her drapery. Verri also discovered blue pigments upon the Victory’s wing. Additionally, the restorers attached newly discovered fragments to the drapery as well as the superior flight feather of the left wing to the Victory.32
The base upon which the Winged Victory stands appears in the form of the prow of a warship. The relationship of the Victory to her base necessitated careful study throughout the restoration process. Though most of the statues base resided in Paris, a teams of archeologists in Samothrace uncovered the central internal block and various smaller fragments—four of which were only discovered during the restoration’s progress. Following intense study of these fragments, archeologists three-dimensionally scanned each fragment, so that the restoration team in Paris could first print accurate models then construct exact copies.33 Although the additional fragments to the drapery may escape the notice of all but the most discerning observers, the addition of the superior flight feather creates an impact.34
In the words of Wescoat, in visitors’ next excursion to the Louvre, “you’ll be seeing a whole new girl, so to speak.” She continues, “She is so amazingly cleaned up that it’s going to be a real pleasure.”35 Wescoat reveals as well that the renewed Victory now possesses a translucent brilliance, “When the light from the windows came into the room where the Louvre conservators were restoring her, you could see right through parts of the statue. It just glows; it’s
33 King, “With help from Emory scholars, Winged Victory returns to flight at the Louvre.” 34 Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back.”
35 King, “With help from Emory scholars, Winged Victory returns to flight at the Louvre.”
remarkable”—quite appropriate for a goddess alight the top of one of the most traversed staircases in the world.36
Her Mysterious Feather
According to Wescoat, “The primary feathers of the Nike are unlike those of birds in nature and also of wings generally represented in ancient Greek art.”37 Differences exist in both the density and the overlapping nature of the feathers arrangement. In comparing the feathers of this Victory’s wings to hundreds of representations of feathers in ancient art as well as to wide range of birds believed to have inhabited the Mediterranean in early antiquity, Wescoat and her team uncovered no visual precedent, that is, no explanation. The tip of the feather upon which Wescoat and her team conducted their investigation was discovered in the 1962, just north of the monument.38 To this misery, Wescoat explains, “If we cannot find a place for our feather on the left wing, then we’ll have to consider the possibility that the missing right wing was made of more complex construction of at least two different kinds of marble” —referring to the slightly different composition of the marble used in the feather fragments for the right wing in Paris.39
Though cleansed, renewed, and restored to her place atop the Daru staircases, scholarly inquiries continue. As Wescoat explains, “While the restoration of the statue is complete, we still have a great deal more work to do to understand the many aspects of this masterpiece.”40
36 Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back.”
37 King, “With help from Emory scholars, Winged Victory returns to flight at the Louvre.” 38 Ibid.
Additionally, archeologists in Samothrace continue to work towards determining the context that originally surrounded the Winged Victory, pondering such questions as, “Was she within a closed building, or an open precinct?”.41 Specifically, Wescoat and her team of scientists continue to investigate a rediscovered plan of the South Nekropolis while working towards completing a new topographic plan for the Sanctuary—particular of its Western area.42
In a new display, the Louvre will include a case containing the remaining, though yet- attached fragments of the statue.43 Fragments from the Winged Victory of Samothrace now reside in a museum on the island of Samothrace, alongside a copy of the Louvre’s, Winged Victory. Although Greece has not formally requested France to return the Winged Victory, many travelers regularly write to the Louvre on behalf of returning Victory to her home island in the Aegean Sea.44
For this comprehensive restoration’s demonstrated commitment to international scholarly engagement, observance of the ancient objet’s recent history, and use of integrative technologies, it may well serve as a model by which similar restorations of monumental ancient statuary may plan future restorations. Additionally, creative crowdsource funding campaigns may serve as a successful means by which museums, large and small, may gather the resources to embark upon restoration of such cultural treasures as the Winged Victory of Samothrace—a renewed light at the top of the Louvre’s grand Daru staircases.
41 Kinnee, “Nike of Samothrace,” 39.
42 King, “With help from Emory scholars, Winged Victory returns to flight at the Louvre.” 43 “A brief history of the Winged Victory of Samothrace,” American Friends of the Louvre.
44 Landauro, “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back,”
Keaten, Jamey. “Winged Victory of Samothrace will be moved for restoration.” Record, The (Kitchener/Cambridge/Waterloo, ON), September 07, 2013., Points of View Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed April 18, 2015).
King, Leslie. “With help from Emory scholars, Winged Victory returns to flight at the Louvre.” Emory Report, July 31, 2014 ,http://news.emory.edu/stories/2014/07/ er_winged_victory_at_louvre%20/campus.html.
Kinnee, Lauren. “The Nike of Samothrace: The Next Generation Attalid Victory Monument?”. New Haven: Yale 2002), http://www.yale.edu/heyzeus/winter2002/nike.pdf.
Landauro, Inti. “The Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace Is Back.” Wall Street Journal (blog). July 8, 2014 (5:04 p.m.).http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/07/08/the-louvres- winged-victory-of-samothrace-is-back/.
Schofield, Leo. “BEHIND THE LOUVRE DOORS.” Australian Gourmet Traveller 7, no. 11 (November 2007): 206-214. Hospitality & Tourism Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 18, 2015).
“Conservation project for the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the monumental staircase.” Louvre. Accessed April 18, 2015. http://www.louvre.fr/en/conservation-project-winged- victory-samothrace-and-monumental-staircase.
“A brief history of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.” American Friends of the Louvre. Accessed April 18, 2015. http://www.aflouvre.org/winged-victory-of-samothrace.