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 Flemings 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
Benjamins view that objects have aura, or Igor Kopytoffs 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. Michelangelos frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Da
Vincis, 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.
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 Flemings proposed model of
artefact study (See Fig. 1). As one of the most significant and recognisable singular
sculptural pieces from the Hellenistic age, Pearces 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 Pearces nor Flemings
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. 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
Fig. 2. Pearce, Susan, Thinking about Things, Museums Journal Assessment of the Nike of Samothrace using E. McClung Flemings Model
Flemings 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
Flemings 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
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.
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 monuments 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
Louvres 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 ships 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-Bndicte, 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, Lou