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Marble statue of a woman with flowing robes. She is missing her head, arms and right foot. - click to view larger image
Statue of Nike

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Behold Nike, the goddess of victory. She was the goddess whose favours determined the fortune of god and mortals alike. Cities, generals, artists, athletes and poets all courted her. The outcome of battles turned on her whims. When Zeus, the all-mighty, father of the Olympian gods went to war, it was Nike who drove his chariot.

This impressive statue of the Nike probably once stood at the apex of a large public building. Carved in the 1st century BCE, it stands almost life-size at just over 143 centimetres. Of course, it is immediately obvious this statue is missing its head, and the vibrant paint that would have been visible in ancient times, is long gone. Very few statues have survived from antiquity intact. In most cases, those that look complete have been heavily restored.

Despite the damage to this statue, we know it is Nike by the remains of wings still attached to the body. Only a few Greek goddesses possess wings, and none were as popular as Nike. Keep an eye out for the so-called Winged Goddess in a more complete form – she appears often throughout this exhibition.

When the statue was originally displayed, different coloured paint would have distinguished the flowing garments from the large wings. The sculptor has skilfully captured a sense of wind and movement in the fabric of this figure, as well as a sense of the body beneath. Folds of drapery billow around the body, the garments press against the breasts and outstretched leg.

The missing head, neck, arms and feet would have been carved separately from finer, white marble. You can see the sockets that would have been used for the joining of these elements. Carving in different marble would have achieved finer details and a greater contrast in the flesh of the statue. Greek women, both mortals and goddesses, displayed pale, white skin. The lack of tan demonstrated the high status of the individual and the fact that they did not need to work in the sun to obtain a living. Nike may have been an active goddess, but she wasn’t a labourer.

Even today Nike is a name to conjure with. In 1971, the US shoe company Blue Ribbon Sports decided to adopt the name ‘Nike’ as its brand name. The rest is history. These days we find Nike’s name emblazoned on millions of sports shoes, clothing and equipment – a fitting tribute to the most powerful goddess.

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 17 December 2021

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