The Crouching Venus by John Nost the Elder at The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In this episode, we’ll be taking a closer look at The Crouching Venus by John Nost the Elder at The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me, Anthony King.

In the 1680s, John Nost the Elder, a skilled sculptor from Mechelen, Belgium, made his way to Britain. Setting up his sculptural workshop in London’s Haymarket district, he quickly gained prominence and secured numerous commissions. Notable among these were projects at Hampton Court Palace, Melbourne Hall, Castle Howard, Buckingham Palace, and Chatsworth. Nost drew inspiration for his work from an ancient Roman sculpture of Venus housed in the Royal Collection. Having likely encountered this masterpiece in person due to his court patrons, he crafted a stunning rendition.

The original Crouching Venus or Crouching Aphrodite, a Hellenistic sculpture dating back to the 3rd century BC, featured various versions, each subtly differing in details and pose. Venus, the Roman goddess embodying love, beauty, desire, fertility, prosperity, and victory, is depicted caught by surprise during her bath. Crouching with her right knee close to the ground, she turns her head to the right, while in most versions, her right arm reaches over to her left shoulder, concealing her breasts. The Crouching Venus Statue, bearing Nost’s signature and crafted in 1702 from Carrara Marble, is a rare surviving example of the artist’s classical subject in marble, distinct from the lead casting prevalent in many of his other statues. Its imposing scale and artistic achievement set it apart, marking a level of grandeur and presence uncommon in Britain at that time. In this sculpture, Venus appears to ineffectually shield her nakedness, drawing attention to her sensual form. The goddess, caught in a moment of vulnerability, is believed to be bathing or adjusting her hair.

Nost’s creation not only reflects the sophisticated patronage of the wealthy gentry in early eighteenth-century Britain but also offers a tantalizing glimpse into the decorative use of sculpture in the interiors of country houses during that era. John Nost the Elder passed away in 1729.

By Anthony King (c)