The marble sculpture shows a complete lighthearted scene between the three figures of Greek mythology as the details of Aphrodite’s hair, Pan’s furry legs and rough horns, and the anatomy of each figures are accurately rendered. The proportion of each figure is carefully done as the artist made sure that each figure contains their most prominent characteristics: Aphrodite’s voluptuousness and womanliness, Pan’s hybridism and dishevelment, and Eros’s lenient infancy and power of flight. The work displays a great composition as it is due to the linkage between the figures in the artist’s arrangement. The two main figures Aphrodite and Pan were in contact with each other by Eros at the top, with the hands and arms combined while Pan’s leg also protracted behind Aphrodite.
For the sculptor, this was completely practical as some free-standing figures in a sculptural work usually require some support like Eros’ link, Pan’s extending leg, his hand on Aphrodite, and his bottom sitting on an unidentifiable object. These ways of support allow the figures to stay together instead of falling apart as it is a method of combing the weight altogether creating a balance within the entire piece visually and physically. Not only did it create balance but also the remarkable closed spaces between the figures, quite triangular at some point between the top and bottom of the piece. And because of the supports and the closed spaces between the figures, Pan appears to twist Aphrodite around in a spiral pattern that leads to a compositional illusion of movement.
Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace and Aphrodite, Pan, and Eros are two of the most important works of Greek art as each have introduced a new style to the Hellenistic period: Hellenistic Baroque and Hellenistic Rococo. The Hellenistic baroque style displays an emphasis on drama, a strong appeal to pathos, and distinctness. Physically, the work is done in very high relief, even more so than before, and almost in the round. Conceptually, it’s about communication of emotions between the work and the public. Therefore, this style perfectly describes the Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace. Shortly after this style was introduced, another one surfaced as Hellenistic artists started to add sensualistic yet casual attributes to baroque-styled sculptures. This is described as the Hellenistic Rococo style. While this style is not only similar to the Baroque style, it’s actually of Baroque but with more of a comical sense, almost satirical-like. This term precisely fits the theme of Aphrodite, Pan, and Eros. These figures are three of the most well-known characters in Greek mythology and this sculpture does nothing but paradoxically show a humorous confrontation between Aphrodite, Pan, and Eros.
Historical and Cultural Context/Meaning
The Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace was discovered in April of 1863 by French archeologist Charles Champoiseau. The discovery took place at the ruined Sanctuary of Great Gods’ temple complex located on the Greek island of Samothrace. This statue may have been created as a commemorative monument to honor the Rhodian triumph over the Seleucid king Antiochus the Great and of Eudamos and his brave men who won that naval battle in 190 BCE. And how did this sculpture symbolize victory? The sculpture is actually the subject of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. According to Greek mythology, Zeus and the other Olympian gods went to war against the Titans, and Nike fought on the side of the gods despite her heritage, as she was half-Titan. Because of her loyalty to the gods, she was considered as an important recognition of the victory of the Olympians. Nike is not only a representative of triumph in military actions but also of all contests, particularly the Olympic Games. In the artist’s case, 4 Eudamos’ victory is to be celebrated, and he did that by creating this sculpture to honor that.
The sculpture of the goddess depicts her as winged woman just touching down on the prow of a ship (the Rhodian marble base) in a gale wind as the prow of the ship represents the naval victory bestowed upon Antiochus and his men. The society this work of art was created in may see the concept of triumph or conquest as highly regarded as the Hellenistic culture contained several prominent conqueror figures especially the Romans. In its original condition, the commemorative statue once stood on a rocky terrace, overlooking the sea and theater of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. It was placed upon a pool of water, where the stone ship appeared to float. Currently, it is on display at the Louvre in Paris, France. At Delos, Greece, the sculptural group Aphrodite, Pan, and Eros was discovered in a clubhouse of a group of merchants. While the artist was unknown, the archaeologists believes that this work of art is indeed a copy of the original. Like the artist, the function of this work is a mystery as well, with the question being whether it was created as a decorative piece or a cult image. As the meaning of this piece is only a showcase of humor and parody between the popular characters of Greek mythology, it is merely a casual encounter between the three figures that mocks their power.