This year I decided to read twelve of the books hitting the big screen (list here). Saturday afternoon I was reading The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History before seeing the film Saturday night and stumbled on some unlikely fitness inspiration. But before we get to the Nike goddess, let's talk about the Monuments Men.
The Monuments Men were a group of World War II heros responsible for saving innumerable cultural masterpieces. The author's note explains the grave danger of the world's art:
During their occupation of Europe, Hitler and the Nazis pulled of the greatest theft in history, seizing and transporting more than five million cultural objects to the Third Reich. The Western Allied effort, spearheaded by the Monuments Men, thus became the greatest treasure hunt in history, with all the unimaginable and bizarre stories that only war can produce. It was also a race against time, for hidden in the most incredible locations, some of which have inspired modern-day populate icons like Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland and The Sound of Music, were tens of thousands of the world's greatest artistic masterpieces, many stolen by the Nazis, including priceless paintings but Michelangelo and Donatello. And some Nazi fanatics holding them were intent on making sure that if the Third Reich couldn't have them, the rest of the world wouldn't either.
The book also tells the story of Jacques Jaujard, the director of French National Museams, who moved the Louvre's incredible art collection to safety before the German occupation of Paris including the infamous Winged Victory of Samothrace pictured at the left.
The Winged Victory was discovered in 1893 on the island of Samothrace and dates back to appoximately 250 BC.
In Greek mythology, Nike is a goddess who personifing victory. She was also the Greeks perception of ideal beauty and strength.
As wikipedia and the art historian H.W. Janson put it, "Nike creates a deliberate relationship to the imaginary space around the goddess. The wind that has carried her and which she is fighting off, straining to keep steady is the invisible complement of the figure and the viewer is made to imagine it. At the same time, the wind and the sea are suggested as metaphors of struggle, destiny and divine help or grace."
In 2004, I had the privilege of viewing The Winged Victory at The Louvre. It is the most beautiful and inspiring piece of art I've ever seen. The goddess captivates the Duru staircase and commands our attention from her pedestal standing eight feet tall. Standing below her wings is a powerful experience. photo credit
If you've seen the classic fashion film Funny Face, then you remember Audrey Hepburn descending the Duru Staircase in that red Givency gown. If you haven't seen Funny Face, add it to your Netflix queue STAT. This is a film you need in your fashion inspiration repertoire.
2,220 years after Nike was freed from marble by a Greek artist, Nike still inspires us and led to one of the most profitable companies of all time, Nike, Inc. Nike Inc.'s idea to leverage the goddesses image is marketing genius, resulting in the world's most successful branding effort with over 99% of the world's population able to identify the Nike swoosh.
Reading Monuments Men renewed my love of Nike and her abilty to inspire us to be women of strength, grace, and victory. I'm grateful seventy years ago a handful of men took it upon themselves to rescue the great relics and masterpieces of our civilization, and I'm glad their story is being told in theaters.
Whatever these paintings may have been to men who looked at them a generation back - today they are not only works of art. Today they are symbols of the human spirit, and of the world the freedom of the human spirit made...To accept the work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind which has produced the world's great art and all it's science - shall not be utterly destroyed. -President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I hope next time we see the Nike swoosh we remember the goddess Nike and the great debt we owe the men and women who risked everything, and many who gave their lives, to save her and the rest of the world's art.
If you're hoping to make some headway towards fitness before we can say "two piece" this spring, remember goddess Nike and that whether it takes you eight minutes or fifteen, a mile is a mile and progress is progress.
May we finish this Monday one day closer to our goals.
May Nike be with us,
[April 2014 Update: In April's issue of Vanity Fair, there is a killer article on the 1 billion dollar Nazi art stash recovered in 2010...1,280 works of art! This article reports that the work of The Monuments Men lives on today.]