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Object assessment for Objects & Places Unit (MMHS, Sydney Uni)

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A report on the Nike of Samothrace, using E. McClung Fleming’s model of artefact study.

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Object assessment for Objects & Places Unit (MMHS, Sydney Uni)

  1. 1. 1 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,< http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/winged-victory-of-samothrace-back-at.html#.VXQ2S-d43Gs>. By Antony Skinner St ID 198446648 Words: 2500
  2. 2. 2 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.
  3. 3. 3 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 1 Conn, Steven, ‘Introduction: Thinking about Museums’. Do Museums Still Need Objects? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, p. 26. 2 Ibid., p. 23. 3 Ibid., p.26. 4 William Henry Flow in Ibid., p. 49. 5 Pearce, Susan M., Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester and London: Leicester University Press, 1992, p.x. 6 Ibid., p. 11.
  4. 4. 4 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 1863. Fig. 1. McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model. In: Schlereth, T. (ed), Material Culture Studies in America. 7 Pearce, Susan, ‘Thinking about Things’, Museums Journal, Vol. 85, No. 4, (1986), p. 198. 8 Pearce, Susan M., Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, p.265
  5. 5. 5 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 interpretation.9 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. Basic Properties: 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 9 McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model. In: Schlereth, T. (ed), Material Culture Studies in America. Nashville: AASLH, 1982, p. 162. 10 Pearce, Susan, ‘Thinking about Things’, p. 198.
  6. 6. 6 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 sculptor.12 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 uniqueness.13 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 11 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). 12 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). 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid.
  7. 7. 7 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 (http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html#seq_1) Operations: Identification: 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 15 Ibid. 16 McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model, p. 167.
  8. 8. 8 remodelled in an Art Deco style in 1934. An extra block was also added at this time to give extra height to the statue (See Fig. 6).17 The conservation started in 2013 and finished in 2014 was extensive: the sculpture was removed from its location; analyses were conducted (for the sculpture this involved video microscope, ultra-violet and infrared photography, and X-ray radiography); the base was dismantled; the plaster, white and grey marble were cleaned to their original colours; mortar between the base blocks was removed and they were reassembled; the pedestal block for the statue was removed and it was placed onto its ship; and finally it was reinstalled back to its location (Fig. 7).18 Fig. 4 © ARR (http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html#seq_1) 17 Foret, Valerie, Winged Victory of: A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace. 18 Hamiaux, Marianne, The Winged Victory of Samothrace: Rediscovering a Masterpiece, Exhibitions & Events, Exhibition, Louvre, < http://www.louvre.fr/en/expositions/winged-victory- samothracerediscovering-masterpiece>, (Accessed 1.6.15).
  9. 9. 9 Fig. 5 Archives private collection (http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html#seq_3) Fig. 6 (http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3223/3109724965_b60d37eb03_z.jpg)
  10. 10. 10 Fig. 7 (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-victory-samothrace) Evaluation: 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 19 McClung Fleming, E., Artifact Study: A Proposed Model, p. 168. 20 Astier, Marie-Bénédicte, The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
  11. 11. 11 Fig. 8 (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-victory-samothrace) Cultural Analysis: 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 The monument 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 21 Foret, Valerie, Winged Victory of: A closer look at the Victory of Samothrace 22 Ibid.
  12. 12. 12 remains.23 Pilgrims would have to walk up through the sanctuary to make their offering to the Nike, which would have dominated the site, looking out over the landscape. The goddess would have been an impressive vision to supplicants, empowering, serene, perhaps comforting and a symbol of their hope for victory (Fig. 10). Fig. 9 © New York University / J. Kurtisch (http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html#seq_1) 23 Ibid.
  13. 13. 13 Fig. 10 Drawing by Valérie FORET, D.E.S.A. architect. (http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html#seq_3) Interpretation: 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.
  14. 14. 14 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. Conclusion 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 context.
  15. 15. 15 Bibliography 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- 124. 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, 2008, < http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/victoiredesamothrace/victoiredesamothrace_acc_en.html>, (Accessed 1.6.15). Hamiaux, Marianne, The Winged Victory of Samothrace: Rediscovering a Masterpiece, Exhibitions & Events, Exhibition, Louvre, < http://www.louvre.fr/en/expositions/winged-victory-samothracerediscovering- 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. 198-201. Pearce, Susan M., Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester and London: Leicester University Press, 1992.
  16. 16. 16 Pearce, Susan M., ‘Appendix: Models for Object Study’, in: Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester and London: Leicester University Press, 1992. 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.

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