Nost was probably commissioned to make The Crouching Venus by the statesman and lawyer Andrew Archer (1659-1741) for the entrance hall of Umberslade Hall, Warwickshire. The house had been constructed in c. 1693-8, and it is thought that the sculpture was commissioned to be placed in the original entrance hall, soon after its completion. It was apparently originally paired with a statue of Apollo, perhaps a version of the Apollo Belvedere, now lost. No documentation of the original commission survives, but it is first recorded at Umberslade in 1815, when the house was described as being ‘long neglected’. It had not been regularly occupied since 1778, the date of the death of the 2nd Lord Umberslade (also Andrew Archer, the second son of the Andrew I Archer, the likely patron of the sculpture, and younger brother of Thomas Archer (d. 1768), who was the 1st Lord Umberslade, and who had originally inherited the Hall in 1741). The sculpture apparently remained at Umberslade throughout the eighteenth century.
Umberslade was sold to the Muntz family in 1858. They re-modelled it in the nineteenth century, and the sculpture’s position in the new entrance hall (as seen in the attached image) was therefore a later placement. In the 1970s the house was sold once more and converted into flats. The Muntz family however retained ownership of The Crouching Venus, although it continued to be housed at Umberslade, and finally sold it to the present vendors. English Heritage were consulted, since Umberslade Hall is a Grade II* listed building, and ruled that the sculpture was not a fixture or fitting, and could be taken away.
The putative commissioner of the sculpture, Andrew I Archer, was the brother of the gentleman architect Thomas Archer (c. 1668-1743); the V&A owns a terracotta model for a figure from the monument to Archer, thought to have been designed by him and executed by Henry Cheere (inv. no. A.11-1934).
Gunnis, Rupert, Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851, Revised edition, London, 1951, page 281
Carved statuary marble of a naked Aphrodite crouching at her bath (Crouching Venus). She wears a Hellenistic type armlet and a plain strap diadem in her hair. On the original panelled marble plinth with black marble base.
The nude goddess half-kneels on an integral plain rectangular base, her arms crossed in front of her breasts, her head turned to her right, and her hair partly coiled in a bun at the back of her head. The sculpture stands on its original plinth, which closely resembles Nost’s design for that made for his statue of William III, dating from the 1690s (V&A, inv. no. 9145; J. Physick, Designs for English Sculpture 1680-1860, London, 1969, p. 56, fig. 30). The sculpture is signed on the front of the integral base: ‘I Nost f 1702’.
Nost’s figure is after the antique prototype of the Crouching Venus, of which several versions are known, in the Uffizi, the Louvre, the Museo Nazionale in Rome, and elsewhere (F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, New Haven, 1981, pp. 321-3). One however, dating from the 2nd century CE, in the British Royal Collection, and now on long-term loan to the British Museum, may well have been the model on which Nost’s sculpture is based, although interestingly he placed the armband on Venus’s left arm, whereas on the ancient model it is on her right. The classical work was almost certainly presented to Charles II by Sir Peter Lely, who had bought it at the sale of Charles I’s goods, and it was therefore extremely likely to have been known by Nost, who had numerous patrons at court.
In November 2011, Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, placed a temporary export bar on the sculpture. The decision on the export licence application for the sculpture was initially set for the period ending 3rd January 2012 inclusive. However, this period has been extended until 3 May 2012 inclusive due to a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the sculpture at the recommended price of £485,000 (plus VAT, amount to be confirmed, which can be reclaimed by most public institutions).
John Nost the Elder: came over to Britain from Malines (Mechelen), and worked in London alongside the Netherlandish sculptor Arnold Quellin (1653-1686) in the 1680s. His date of birth, and the nature of his training in the Netherlands, as well as the exact date of his arrival here, are unknown. On Quellin’s premature death, Nost married his former master’s widow, inheriting his workshop and sculpture practice. John Nost is perhaps most famous for his lead garden statuary, notably the figures made for Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire, but he also produced marble sculpture for Hampton Court, and provided marble tables for the Duke of Devonshire. He additionally undertook impressive funerary monuments in marble, such as that to the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry at Durisdeer (Dumfries and Galloway). Two of his relatives, both also called John Nost, were to work as sculptors in Britain and Ireland during the eighteenth century, but John Nost the Elder is generally considered to be the most important of the artistic dynasty.
The Venus is a remarkable instance of Nost’s assured carving of marble. The idealised beauty of the figure, as well as the graceful serpentine pose, recall Giambologna’s work of a century before. This is an extraordinarily early instance in Britain of a monumental freestanding sculpture of a mythological subject, carved in a classical style, some years before the Grand Tour became fashionable. Andrew Archer was to travel to North Italy in 1712 on behalf of the British government, and his sons certainly did effectively go on Grand Tours, but well after the completion of the Nost sculpture (J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800, New Haven, pp. 23-4). The Crouching Venus gives us a glimpse of the sophisticated level of patronage of the wealthy gentry in Britain at this date, and tantalisingly suggests the way in which interiors of country houses were adorned with sculpture, although sadly no images of the original entrance hall of Umberslade survive. Visually, it is a compelling work, its scale and accomplishment giving it a grandeur and presence truly exceptional at this date in Britain.