Nike Loosening Her Sandal

Classical Greek    

replica: from the Louvre, Paris

date of the original: c. 420 BC 

provenance of the original: the balustrade of the temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis, Athens; excavated by Ross in 1835; now in the New Acropolis Museum, Athens

description: Relief of a figure of Nike, winged and draped, bending to loosen her sandal. Head obliterated. Plaster replica; Pentelic marble original. Height 96 cm, width 56 cm, depth 18 cm.

This Nike is a slightly later Classical work than the Parthenon Frieze Panels, from the parapet of the temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis of Athens. The goddess is taking off her sandals before entering the temple and is just unfastening her right sandal. The perfect and graceful balance with weight on the left foot, the slightly twisted and bent torso with the adherent drapery underlining the displacement of the body, the graceful unfastening right hand, the equally graceful counterbalancing gesture of the left arm (though mutilated), and, last but not least, the elaborate drapery emphasizing the complexity of the posture, make a great work by accomplishing so much with so little.

Athena Nike is a warrior maiden, the goddess of Victory. Her temple was decreed by the Athenians in 488 BC, but was not completed until 405 BC. Part of the fifth century building program of Pericles, the diminutive temple remained relatively untouched until the 18th century when the Turks dismantled it to complete their fortress. It was reconstructed after the liberation of Greece.

A parapet was constructed around the temple in 408 BC. On the outside ran a frieze celebrating the victories of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. On each of the three sides (north, west and south) of the parapet is a seated Athena, who watches the winged Victories decorating trophies or bringing animals to sacrifice. Fragments of twenty- four slabs representing fifty figures in all were found, about one-third of the parapet frieze.

(See also: "Mourning" Athena.)