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  • Mayernik 1

    The Dichotomy of Interpretations of Nike in Sculpture

    At the edge of Central Park, amid the hustle and bustle of the surrounding metropolis of

    New York City, stands the Sherman Monument, an imposing statue of a commanding general

    perched on his horse. Positioned in front of the horse and its commander, an angelic figure

    strides powerfully and confidently leading the horse and rider, diminishing the muscular form of

    the animal with her strength and delicacy. The woman that is presented is Victory, a smaller

    rendition located in the Carneige Museum of Art in Pittsburgh of a gilded bronze statue designed

    by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The beauty of Victory, depicting Nike, the Greek Goddess of

    Victory, stands as an exemplar of the Classical genre, a style of Greek art celebrating the

    perfection, order, and balance, of the human figure. Imagine a different scene: atop the grand

    steps of the entrance of the Denon Wing in the Louvre Museum appears the Winged Victory of

    Samothrace, majestically powering the room with her grace. Although portraying the same

    figures, each artists creates a unique masterpiece of Nike. While Saint-Gaudens work

    encompasses the various aspects of Classical art portrayed through the sculptures balance, order,

    and perfection, Winged Victory of Samothrace epitomizes Hellenistic Art using asymmetry,

    movement, and drapery. Augustus Saint-Gaudens utilizes these elements of the Classical genre

    of art to persuade the viewers that Victory is eminent in her dominance yet delicate in her beauty;

    conversely, Winged Victory of Samothrace inspires natural beauty because of her imperfection.

    The creation of the Classical and Hellenistic art genres dates back to the artistic

    movements of ancient Greece and Rome. Following the Archaic period of Greek sculpture that

    was inspired by Egyptian art, the Classical genre began in 500 BC. Sculptors began using real

    subjects, and as they continued to study these subjects, they noticed that the relaxed, resting

    positions of humans is one of shifted weight, cross-balance, and loose limbs. The Classical

  • Mayernik 2

    period is characterized by order, balance, and perfection, despite using more human subjects.

    Saint-Gaudens Victory exemplifies this artistic movement. The shift from Classical to

    Hellenistic Art began following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence

    of the Roman Empire. Hellenism (loosely translated to the Greek term meaning one who uses

    the Greek language) was not only a period of success for Greece, but also a shift in thought

    from the Classical art genre. Artists found beauty in natural objects, movement, individuality,

    and drapery. Not only were men appreciated for their bodies, but women began to be sculpted

    and draped in dramatic garments to show their natural beauty. Winged Victory of Samothrace is

    known as one of the best examples of sculpture to embody the characteristics of the Hellenistic

    movement.

    Saint-Gaudens Victory as a Classical Sculpture

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens, an American sculptor known for crafting bronze historical

    monuments, built the Central Park statue to honor General Sherman as he led the Union Army

    that fought at Bull Run and at Shiloh and was infamous for his trail of destruction as his troops

    seized Atlanta during the Civil War while marching to the sea. Sculpted of gilded bronze, the

    monotonic gold color of the statue signifies richness, regalness, and superiority that the goddess

    Nike bestows on the champion in a contest of combat, athletics, or other competition. Like other

    works of the Classical period, the simplicity of the solid gold color entices the patron to focus on

    the intricate details of the statue. Instead of infusing Victory with color, Saint-Gaudens relies on

    his sculpting abilities to accentuate the figures flawless qualities, depending only on shadow and

    shape to impart distinctive characteristics in the composition of the work. By not emphasizing

    one aspect of the figure over others, the use of a uniform, solid color promotes balance and

  • Mayernik 3

    harmony characteristic of the Classical period. The solid gold color of the sculpture emphasizes

    Victorys prominence as the leader of the champion of combat.

    Saint-Gaudens use of body positioning and facial expressions show firmness and

    perfection in his sculptures movement. Remaining poised and graceful throughout the hardships

    of competition, Victory persuades her viewers to remain composed and confidence during

    whatever adversities they may face in their lives. The expressionless yet flawless face of Victory

    further categorizes the sculpture in the Classical genre. Victorys face does not stand out, call

    attention to itself, or detract from the overall sculpture. Appearing neither anxious, nor scared,

    nor worried, the woman remains confident through her exploits as her unblemished facial

    features reveal her poise and grandeur. The slight rigidity in her neck and the softness in her jaw

    line contribute to her Classical feminine beauty. Her slim lips frame her slightly perched-open

    mouth as she inhales the fresh air. She appears in a trance as her open eyes gaze off into the

    distance. The woman is not concerned with her immediate surroundings, as her eyes are fixed on

    something outside the realm of her outstretched arm, beyond the tangible. Not completely

    satisfied with previous triumphs, she looks forward to the hope of future successes. While it is

    possible to define her facial features such as lips, nose, and cheek bones, she has no distinct

    characteristics that call attention to any one aspect of her countenance. Thus, her facial features

    are in balance and, because they represent the ideal form of the human body, lend an air of

    harmony to the figure. The harmony among Victorys facial features encourages viewers to

    believe in her sincerity.

    The Classical genre of the sculpture is further evident in the curvature, flow, and

    symmetry of Victorys wings. The wings are folded into her body, creating an aerodynamic form

    which does not impede the forward motion of her strides. Attached near her scapula, her wings

  • Mayernik 4

    are proportionate to her body and evenly balanced. The curves in the composition of feathers

    have a flowing softness further expressing her ethereal beauty and unparalleled perfection.

    Viewing the wings of the sculpture enables people to recognize the inability to exactly emulate

    the Goddess of Victory; however, it nevertheless encourages people to try to achieve their own

    definition of perfection. Throughout his work, Augustus Saint-Gaudens uses qualities of the

    Classical genre including balance, flawlessness, and harmony, along with use of medium and

    color to portray Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory.

    Winged Victory of Samothrace as a Hellenistic Sculpture

    While Saint-Gaudens Victory is a Classical sculpture because of its harmony, balance,

    and perfection of Nike, the same winged figure is Hellenistic in style in Winged Victory of

    Samothrace in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Characterized by angularity, drapery of

    garments, asymmetry, and dramatic movement that breaks the plane of its space, this Nike is

    characterized by her majestic dominance in her natural beauty. Dating back to the first half of

    second century BC, Winged Victory is the most famous monument to come out of Samothrace,

    an ancient Greek island that was home to the Temple of the Sanctuary of the Greek Gods. The

    2.5 meter statue was discovered in pieces in 1863 by the French archaeologist Charles

    Champoiseau, and now stands majestically remastered in the Louvres Denon Wing.

    The angularity of Winged Victory is not only a strong characteristic of the Hellenistic

    movement, but also a powerful reminder of the imperfections of all woman, even a great Greek

    goddess. Energetic and sensual in her body position, the winged woman strides forward with her

    right foot, facing an eminent battle with pride and authority. Unlike Victorys perfect balance,

    this Nike statue is on uneven ground. Despite missing her feet, one can only imagine the way in

  • Mayernik 5

    which her hard-wrought, muscular feet traverse the ground and kisses each step along the way.

    The Hellenistic element of angularity is exemplified in the placement of the statute within the

    staircase. Resting atop a 2 meter marble prow, Winged Victory strides forward and can be seen

    from the entire staircase, the side staircases, and the balcony above. Just as it stood in the

    Sanctuary of the Greek Gods in Samothrace as a majestic masterpiece, so too does it remain in

    the foyer as an unforgettable view in every visitors journey through the Louvre. When viewed

    from straight-on, one can immediately sense the slight tilt of her shoulders and the asymmetry of

    her textured wings, as if her perfection is only second to her resiliency. Though she lacks a face,

    she need not prove her perfection or balance in her countenance: each individual viewer of the

    sculpture can create their own perception of what her head would be, creating a sense of

    individuality that is lacking in the Saint-Gaudens Classical sculpture. From all angles, Winged

    Victory of Samothrace contains majestic properties of Hellenism. While Saint-Gaudens

    Classical