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Victory (Nike) Adjusting Her Sandal, Temple of Athena Nike (Acropolis)

Nike Adjusting Her Sandal, from the south side of the parapet of the Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis, Athens, Greece, c. 410 B.C.E., marble, 3' 6" high (Acropolis Museum, Athens)
Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris.
Created by Steven Zucker and Beth Harris.
Video transcript
(piano playing) Voiceover: When you walk up this sacred way to the Acropolis, right before you go through the gate house, the Propylaea, you see a small beautiful ionic temple, the temple to Athena Nike. And inside it, as is typical of Greek temples, was a sculpture of the goddess of Athena Nike. That is an Athena associated with victory and battle. Nike means victory. This is a very constrained space, and at some point people were worried about falling off and so they added a railing, a parapet, and it was carved with a series of small figures in fact, the parapet itself is no more than about 4ft tall. And so a parapet is a kind of railing, and a space where you can walk, but these didn't face the people on the inside, these faced the walkway up. What we see carved in fairly high relief are series of Nike's, that is, winged figures of victory. The most famous one is the Nike adjusting her sandal. I've never been clear whether, she's taking her sandal off or putting her sandal on. I think she's taking it off. I think she's undoing the knot, and the sandal will slip off. And that's because she will be walking on sacred ground. So we have a figure that's by definition, "off balance." She's lifting one foot up to undo the tie on her sandal. She's got her other leg bent, she leans forward, but her left arm comes up to help her balance and you can see the wing just behind her left arm. Actually, there's two wings if you look. And it's a good thing she's got them because, presumably it's those wings that are helping her maintain her balance. Yeah, it's so interesting because in the high classical period, we see a great deal of attention paid to, making figures seem, relaxed and even and balanced. And yet here we have somebody as you said, that is inherently awkward. So if you think, for example, back to the Doryphoros, the quintessential classical sculpture, there is a sense of one side of the body balancing the other in contrapposto. And you're right, here we have an intentional interest in the form that's out of balance. Now this dates to about 410, and so we're on the other side, of the century, and we can see that the artist has taken the classical handling of the relationship between the body and the drapery, and accentuated it. And by the classical treatment of the drapery, you're referring to the style of Phidias, whose work we see in the sculptures of the Parthenon. Where we have drapery that clings to the forms of the body and creates very intricate folds. But not quite this revealing. This is among one of the most erotic works of art that we find on the Acropolis. In the figures in the Parthenon, for example, the Pediment sculptures, we see the drapery following the forms of the body and cascading around it. You can see that especially in the so called, "Three Goddesses". Exactly! But here, there's a sense of that drapery being transparent, where we can really see the nude body underneath it. Well look at the way her left thigh is exposed, her breasts are exposed, her abdomen is so transparent to us, but then look at the way that the folds gather on her arm, just beautifully and actually you can see that the artist created little peaks in that drapery, giving us a sense of the weight of the cloth. Her right shoulder is nude, but her left shoulder is clothed. We have access to the body in either case. And then we see what Art Historians call, "chain folds" as though, if you imagine holding up a chain in the way that it drapes, and falls down with the pull of gravity, drawing attention in with the shadows there to the space between her legs. There's clear eroticism here. The Nike adjusting her sandal's only one of many panels along the parapet. In another panel we see two Nike's, Or Nikai, coaxing an animal to sacrifice. And in other panels we see Nike figures, who are offering trophies to a military victory. So all of this, within the context of the Acropolis, within the context of the Parthenon, the importance of military victories. And not long after not only did the victory of the Persians, but also the very destructive war with Sparta, the Peloponnesian War. Right, and Sparta being Athens long time nemesis. (piano playing)