Object assessment for Objects & Places Unit (MMHS, Sydney Uni)
2015 Semester 1
MHST6904 – Museum Heritage: Objects and Places
Unit Coordinator: Dr Annie Clarke
Assignment 3: Object Assessment
This report will analyse The Nike of Samothrace, or The Winged Victory of
Samothrace, (as it is labelled online) in display at the Louvre Museum, using E.
McClung Fleming’s proposed model of artefact study.
Credit: ‘Winged Nike of Samothrace back in Louvre’, News Network Archaeology,<
By Antony Skinner St ID 198446648
Table of Contents
Title Page: Page 1.
Table of Contents: Page 2.
Introduction to Object Study or Analysis: Pages 3-5.
History & Function: Pages 5-6.
Material, Construction & Design: Pages 6-7.
Identification: Pages 7-10.
Evaluation: Pages 10-11.
Cultural Analysis: Pages 11-13.
Interpretation: Pages 13-14.
Conclusion: Page 14.
Bibliography: Pages 15-16.
Introduction to Object Study or Analysis
Why conduct an object analysis? Some post-modernist theorists and museologists
view objects as having lost their primacy, as Steven Conn notes their disappearance is
‘relative to the rise of other activities in the museum, such as: educational,
recreational and commercial’ as less objects are on display in the twenty-first century
compared with the twentieth and nineteenth centuries.1
However, Conn avers that
objects are still used to tell stories but with less volume as curators use their
connoisseurship to carefully select objects for exhibitions that will narrate a particular
story or stories with less confusion.2
Conn stresses the relevance of Walter
Benjamin’s view that objects have ‘aura’, or Igor Kopytoff’s ‘singularity’ and the idea
of authenticity continues today. 3
Objects are still considered central to the universal or encyclopaedic museums
founded in the acquisition and accumulation of objects and collections. The
restoration and conservation of iconic pieces in collections indicates their continuing
importance to these museums. To restore greater authenticity or originality by
removing prior processes that either damaged, changed or obscured what curators
consider to be more original, e.g. Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Da
Vinci’s, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, and The Nike of Samothrace, both in
the Louvre, allows for new appreciation, understanding, and interpretation of these
objects. William Flow, states, ‘it is not the objects placed in a museum that constitutes
their value rather than the method in which they are displayed and the use made of
them for the purpose of instruction.’4
Perhaps it is a combination of these. Susan
Pearce with an archaeological and anthropological perspective ‘believes that
collections and the objects and specimens within them will always be, and should
always be, at the heart of the museum operation.’5
The purpose of object study and
display as Pearce posits is to derive meaning ‘where they can be viewed as functional
artefacts, symbolic structures and historical evidence.’6
Conn, Steven, ‘Introduction: Thinking about Museums’. Do Museums Still Need Objects?
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, p. 26.
Ibid., p. 23.
William Henry Flow in Ibid., p. 49.
Pearce, Susan M., Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester and London:
Leicester University Press, 1992, p.x.
Ibid., p. 11.
According to Pearce the four main properties identified for the study of an object are
its material, history, environment and significance, which will reveal its unique
information ‘about the nature of man in society.’7
The object for this study will be
The Nike of Samothrace, or The Winged Victory of Samothrace, (as it is labelled
online) in the Louvre Museum, using E. McClung Fleming’s proposed model of
artefact study (See Fig. 1). As one of the most significant and recognisable singular
sculptural pieces from the Hellenistic age, Pearce’s model proposed in 1986, with
eight stages would be more revealing for the Nike (See Fig. 2). However, with the
limitation of this small study unfortunately it is not feasible. Also with the
considerable volume of material on the Nike, it cannot be investigated in detail and
this study can only be superficial. Pearce raises other points about the methods for
object analysis, namely: they are not rule bound and only intended as guides or aides-
memoires; there is no single conclusion only an interpretation based on the unique
perspective of the analyst; models can be modified and the use of one does not
prevent the use of others.8
A further point is that neither Pearce’s nor Fleming’s
models consider restoration or conservation and whether it is part of the history or
material of an object. A separate stage can be included in the models for conservation
as this is important in the Nike, which has undergone four conservation efforts since
Fig. 1. McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model. In: Schlereth, T. (ed), Material
Culture Studies in America.
Pearce, Susan, ‘Thinking about Things’, Museums Journal, Vol. 85, No. 4, (1986), p. 198.
Pearce, Susan M., Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, p.265
Fig. 2. Pearce, Susan, ‘Thinking about Things’, Museums Journal
Assessment of the Nike of Samothrace using E. McClung Fleming’s Model
Fleming’s model has two distinct areas: a five-fold classification of the basic
properties, which includes: history, material, construction, design and function; and
four sets of operations: identification, evaluation, cultural analysis, and
Pearce considers that it is cumbersome for an individual object when
cross-referencing the operations with the basic properties and function can be merged
with history and construction and design with material.10
As there is repetition in
Fleming’s model this will hopefully be avoided for this study.
History & Function
Curators at the Louvre identify the Nike, as a representation of the messenger goddess
of victory or angelos in Greek – a winged woman standing on the prow of a boat. It
was carved on Rhodes, perhaps by Rhodians sometime after 190 BC to celebrate a
naval victory they had; either the battle of Myonnisos or at Side against the fleet of
McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model. In: Schlereth, T. (ed), Material Culture
Studies in America. Nashville: AASLH, 1982, p. 162.
Pearce, Susan, ‘Thinking about Things’, p. 198.
Antiochus III of Syria. The sculpture was erected in a sanctuary on the island of
Samothrace. The sanctuary was consecrated to the Kabeiroi (fertility or great gods)
whose help was summoned to protect seafarers and grant victory in war and so the
sculpture was offered as a religious act to honour these gods or alternatively a votive
offering to commemorate the Rhodian victory.11
The dedicatory inscription has never
been uncovered during excavations since 1863, which would give accurate
information to the reasons for the monument’s erection, name of sponsor and perhaps
There is no information on the sculpture between the 190 BC and 1863
when it was excavated by Charles Champoiseau and shipped to Paris to be part of the
Louvre’s collection in its Department of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities. It
has since become an icon due to its size, aesthetic qualities, placement and
Material, Construction & Design
The sculptural monument consists of the base and prow of a Greek trireme made from
grey Lartos marble from Rhodes and the statue of the goddess is carved from white
marble from Paros. The monument is 5.57 m in height, the statue 3.28 m and the base
2.29 m and weighs over 30 tons. 14
The piece is complex and difficult to assess as
parts of the design are missing – the right wing, part of the left chest, the head, arms,
the left hand and feet. Most of these elements were sculptured separately, as was the
base and ship prow and assembled on site. This technique was standard practice from
the Archaic period for marble statues. Elements of the ship’s prow are missing too –
the battering ram below the prow and the prow ornament at the extremity of the stem
at the front of the ship. The sculptor used cantilevering in the body to support the two
wings with only two metal dowels holding them in place. The base and prow consists
of 23 blocks of marble held together with metal pins and designed so the prow rises
forward with the weight of the statue acting as a counterbalance to keep the prow
thrusting forward like a ship. This indicates that the sculptor(s) who designed and
Astier, Marie-Bénédicte, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, Collection & Louvre Palace, Curatorial
Departments, Louvre, < http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-victory-samothrace>,
Foret, Valerie, Winged Victory of: A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace, Louvre, 2008, <
http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html>, (Accessed 1.6.15).
carved the monument were experts using the two different elements integral to an
overall concept for the sculpture (Fig. 3).15
Fig. 3 Photo RMN / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowski
Identification for Fleming includes classification, authentication and description.16
The Nike has clearly been identified by over 150 years of scholarship and research as
a Hellenistic votive sculpture from about 190 BC. It has been definitively
authenticated with excavations carried out by French, Austrian and American teams at
the site. Originally only the statue was excavated in 1863. After some restoration
work the statue was assembled in the Louvre and put on display in 1866 (See Fig. 4).
Champoiseau thought the grey marble blocks were part of a tomb and not the base.
An Austrian team examined the blocks in 1875 and identified them and they were
reassembled with the statue and put on display after further conservation work in
1884 (Fig. 5). The monument was then placed at the top of the Daru Staircase
McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model, p. 167.
Fig. 7 (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-victory-samothrace)
Evaluation involves judging the object on its: aesthetic quality; workmanship;
appropriateness of material; skill and taste of craftsmanship; effectiveness of overall
design (proportion, balance, unity); expressiveness of form, style and ornament; and a
factual comparison with similar objects.19
From descriptions of the Nike, by curators
at the Louvre, to art historians, scholars and publications on sculpture it is recognised
as a unique sculpture with very few types to match its expertise of execution and skill
of carving and design and Hellenic idealism. It is evident that these authorities to
make their claims have used their connoisseurship. There is a similar naval monument
in Cyrene, Libya, dated to about 250 BC, however the damage to it is significant and
what there is of the statue is not comparable in quality to the Nike. It is described
succinctly in a brief entry on the Louvre website (see Fig. 8).20
McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model, p. 168.
Astier, Marie-Bénédicte, The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Fig. 8 (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-victory-samothrace)
A cultural analysis of the object determines the relationship of the artefact to its
contemporary culture. Some elements have already been covered, like its initial
purpose for manufacture. Victory and other abstract concepts such as Peace, Fortune,
Vengeance, and Justice were represented as goddesses early in Greek art. Depictions
were quite decorative and found in many forms from statues, reliefs, vessels, coins,
and terracotta or bronze figurines. The figures followed the stylistic evolution of
Greek art, developing constantly as the Nike is evidence of a spectacular sculpture
during the Hellenistic period.21
A messenger goddess or angelos for the polytheistic
Greeks also prefigured the depiction and purpose of angels in Christianity. There is
another marble Nike dated to about 420 BC from Olympia, another important site
where victory was sought after. The original location of the Nike was significant. The
sanctuary of Samothrace dedicated to the Kabeiroi or Great Gods, and ceremonial
Mysteries was famous and pilgrims from all over the ancient Hellenistic world
travelled there to be initiated, make offerings, or seek blessings. This site of
significance for religious pilgrimage was the context for the Nike.22
was placed at the highest and furthest point of the sanctuary cut into the side of a hill
and looked over the amphitheatre and other buildings (Fig. 9). There is evidence to
suggest a building housed the sculpture protected by a roof, though there are few
Foret, Valerie, Winged Victory of: A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace
Fig. 10 Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect.
The Nike’s significance is that it is a unique sculpture in its size, quality, aesthetics of
its design, and skill in execution and standing today as a symbol of victory for those
who triumph over their rivals. These ideas are as honoured still today as much as it
was by the ancient Greeks. However, for the ancient Greeks the statue was not about
glorifying victory, but as an ex voto offering of thanks to the messenger goddess of
Victory for her assistance in their triumph.
The symbolic function of the Nike can be seen in its use today as the name for one of
the world’s most successful multi-national sports brands, Nike. While a pair of wings
is used as the logo or hood ornament for several car manufacturers such as: Bentley,
Aston Martin, and Morgan. American car manufacturers used a statuette of a winged
Nike as their hood ornament, such as Cadillac, Plymouth and Packard in the 1930s
and early 1940s. The “Spirit of Ecstasy” a woman in flying robes for one of the most
prestigious car manufacturers Rolls Royce is reminiscent of the Nike. The message
this sends to the competitors of Nike, Bentley and Rolls Royce is that they are the best.
One can perhaps extend this idea to the Louvre too. As the most visited museum in
the world it exemplifies the pre-eminence of French cultural institutions and their
collections, which started when Napoleon set about glorifying the French Republic by
appropriating the best art in Europe and the ancient world during his campaigns and
this was replicated during the Second Empire by Napoleon III when the Nike was
excavated and sent to France.
Conservation has been important in shaping the understanding and interpretation of
the sculpture. Each period has used the available technology and scholarly
information to make it more intact to recreate it physically and thus also its
significance. The most recent effort has been the most successful to achieve this and
bring the sculpture closest to its original form. Likewise, the museum context is
important and obviously unlike the original site at Samothrace, it is artificial in
comparison. But it recreates the placement of the Nike in terms of space and dramatic
effect for the visitor and in a way has its own authenticity. Thus, the Louvre has
become a modern day sanctuary as the context for the Nike, and the Daru staircase
that leads to it parallels the pilgrimages made by the ancient Hellenes, which tourists
now make to marvel at the Hellenic ideals of aestheticism and victory.
It is clear an analysis of such a significant and symbolic artefact with 160 years of
scholarly research and provide an introduction to the theories of object study so a
context is created within the limitations of this study is impossible. Although
Fleming’s model has too many areas of overlap that can involve unnecessary
repetition it has been a useful exercise in examining and interpreting an
archaeological artefact and also interpreting the literature that was not only significant
in the ancient world but still carries this significance today due to conservation and
Astier, Marie-Bénédicte, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, Collection & Louvre
Palace, Curatorial Departments, Louvre, < http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-
notices/winged-victory-samothrace>, (Accessed 10.5.15).
Conn, Steven, ‘Introduction: Thinking about Museums’. Do Museums Still Need
Objects? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, pp. 20-57.
Duby, Georges, & Daval, Jean-Luc, (Eds), Sculpture: From Antiquity to the Present
Day, Cologne, Taschen, 2013.
Elliot, R., ‘Towards a material history methodology’, in Interpreting objects and
collections, Ed., Susan Pearce, London, New York: Routledge, 1994, Ch. 17, pp. 109-
Findlen, Paula, ‘Review: Museums, Objects and Collections by Susan Pearce’, Public
Historian, Vol. 17, No. 1, Winter, 1995, pp. 95-97.
Foret, Valerie, Winged Victory of: A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace, Louvre,
Hamiaux, Marianne, The Winged Victory of Samothrace: Rediscovering a
Masterpiece, Exhibitions & Events, Exhibition, Louvre, <
masterpiece>, (Accessed 1.6.15).
Hamiaux, Marianne, & Laugier, Ludovic, The Winged Victory of Samothrace:
Rediscovering a Masterpiece, Exhibition from March 5th
to June 15th
, 2015, Louvre,
<http://www.louvresamothrace.fr/en/?#/presentationoeuvre>, (Accessed 10.5.15).
Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, London
and New York: Routledge, 2000.
Keene, Suzanne, ‘Review: Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture by
Eilean, Hooper-Greenhill’, Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief,
Volume 1, Number 2, July 2005, pp.281-282.
McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model. In: Schlereth, T. (ed),
Material Culture Studies in America. Nashville: AASLH, 1982, pp. 162-173.
Pearce, Susan, ‘Thinking about Things’, Museums Journal, Vol. 85, No. 4, (1986), pp.
Pearce, Susan M., Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester and
London: Leicester University Press, 1992.
Pearce, Susan M., ‘Appendix: Models for Object Study’, in: Museums, Objects and
Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester and London: Leicester University Press,
Petrov, Julia, ‘Cross-Purposes: Museum Display and Material Culture’,
CrossCurrents, 2012, 62, pp. 219-234.
Richter, Gisela, A Handbook of Greek Art: A Survey of the Visual Art of Ancient
Greece, London, Phaidon, 1983.