The two pictures seem familiar? Well it should be, at least to those who have some familiarity to British Architecture. The two pictures are of the Angel of Victory, also known as the Winged Victory, proudly decorating the Victorial Memorials, one in London, England, and the other in Kolkata, India. Being born in Kolkata, I was made aware of this mysterious angel from my early childhood, along with many mind-baffling myths about the same. Many contemporary writers often fantasized the angel flying off in night, may be to take a stroll in the gentle breeze of the Ganges. However, nobody seems to know wherefrom the sculpture came from, what was the inspiration behind it, and what made this lady so famous to the British that they adorn their famous architecture with her in forefront. Let’s take a dive with me into not-so-ancient history to figure out this mystery. A word of warning, I am not a historian, and all my knowledge are gathered from books, or internet surfing. So anyone who finds any anomaly in the facts please don’t hesitate to comment below, or conatct me.
The Nike of Samothrace
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the famous Nike of Samothrace, or the Winged Victory of Samothrace, gracing the Daru Staircase of the Louvre Museum, Paris.
Looks Familiar? No? Well what if I tell you that the Angel of Victory was actually influenced by this sculptural beauty. Seems a little far fetched? Of course it would. After all, we hardly can draw comparison just because both ladies have wings. Fine, let’s take a look at the artists final impression of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, based on the remnants we got:
This predicted image was given by the famous Viennese sculptor, Prof. Zumbusch, who did this reconstruction at around 1860-1880. As we can see, the Winged Victory of Samothrace is holding the famous trumpet, which she is holding in the famous Angel of Victory sculpture.
Here is also another picture, that of a four drachma coin, used during 301-292 B.C. unearthed from the same Greek island of Samothrace from where the sculpture was unearthed. This one also shows Nike, The Goddess of Victory in the Greek and then the Roman Civilization, where she came to be known as Victory, or Victoria.
However, during 1950 further excavations lead to the discovery of a hand fragment, which suggested something different. The hand had ‘an open palm and two outstretched fingers, suggesting that she was not holding anything but just simply holding her hand up in a gesture of greeting. But by then the construction of both the Victorial Memorials were complete, which were built around 1910-1920. So it is absolutely feasible that they constructed the Angel of Victory based on the previous, mistaken prediction.
Before being installed in Louvre, and also in between during the World War II, the angel viewed different resting places, including Chateau De Valencay, where it was kep in a crate during the World War II. Let’s view some of the pictures during the transition period of it’s discovery and installation.
Now the angel resides gloriously at the head of the Daru Staircase of Louvre, where millions of people from all over the world gather to commend her divine beauty. The final reconstruction of the Angel looks like the picture here, which was designed by Lehmann, in 1973.
Why the Nike of Samothrace?
Well all is well until now, but it doesn’t really explains why the British embraced the Greek Goddess as a sign of their imperialism. Is there a reason behind this? Well, this is where the content leaves the realm of solid verifiable facts, to the gray area of guesses and speculations.
One simple guess would be the British chose the Nike , or Victoria, out of respect towards their Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901), Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Empress of India, to whom both the buildings were dedicated. Of course that might be indeed be the case, but was there further incentive for the British to choose this particular sculpture?
At this juncture, allow me to introduce, the famous Venus de Milo, also residing in Louvre. The Nike of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo, became rivals from the inception of their discovery. While some hailed Venus de Milo as the best sculpture of the period, some undoubtedly placed that crown on the head of Victoria.
No statues produced anywhere throughout the Greek world during the Hellenistic period bear comparison with the Victory of Samothrace.
Salomon Reinach, a renown scholar and archaeologist, states
But not one among the fine female statues of this period presently known to us can stand comparison with the Venus even under the most casual scrutiny!
Now it is notable that the French took Venus de Milo as a resemblance of their own prowess in sculpture and architecture. So, it might be another reason why the British chose the Nike of Samothrace, the Perfect rival of Venus de Milo, to represent their imperialism.
However, we should also keep in mind, that the English-French relations started improving in the early 20th century, when the buildings were built. They started to embrace each other’s culture, during a period which famoulsy came to be known as “Entente Cordiale”. This fusion of culture might also have influenced the English to make the Nike of Samothrace their own.
Thus, the Nike of Samothrace, emerging from a stupor aftre maybe hundreds of years, have influenced the construction of a famous sculpture, in a period much after her time.
P.S. Please contact me if you find any anomaly or misinformation in the article. I apologize in advance for any such mistakes, which I hope are non-existent.