The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has acquired a rare marble sculpture called The Crouching Venus by John Nost the Elder, signed and dated 1702, following a temporary export bar placed on it in November 2011.
The sculpture is one of the most remarkable examples of Nost's assured carving and is a rare surviving example of a classical subject by the artist, its scale and accomplishment giving it a grandeur and presence thought to be truly exceptional at this date in Britain.
Nost was a seminal influence on British sculpture of the 18th century, combining traditions derived from Netherlandish sculpture of the 17th century with classical forms from ancient Rome. Set on its original plinth, the carved marble depicts the nude figure of Venus gracefully crouching, her arms crossed and her head turned to her right. She wears an armlet and a plain strap wreath in her hair.
"We're thrilled to have acquired this important work by the exceptionally gifted sculptor John Nost the Elder. Thanks to a generous bequest, we are now able to display this outstanding piece in our permanent sculpture galleries for the enjoyment of visitors," said Martin Roth, Director of the V&A.
Nost's figure is based on an antique prototype of the Crouching Venus, of which several versions are known, in the Louvre, the Uffizi, and the Museo Nazionale in Rome. A 2nd century model, in the Royal Collection when Nost carved his figure and now on long-term loan to the British Museum, may well have been the one on which his sculpture is based.
In November 2011, the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary export bar on the sculpture, following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by Arts Council England. The Committee recommended that the export be deferred, because the sculpture is of outstanding significance for the study of British sculpture in the 18th century.
"I am delighted that the export bar I placed on this magnificent sculpture has allowed the V&A to acquire it for the nation. This exceptional work by Nost will now take its rightful place in what is undoubtedly the world's greatest art and design museum, where it can be enjoyed by all," Ed Vaizey, Culture Minister said after the acquisition.
Although no documentation of the circumstances of the original commission survives, it is thought to have been ordered by the statesman and lawyer Andrew Archer for Umberslade Hall, Warwickshire, where it remained throughout the 18th century. Umberslade Hall was sold in 1858 to the Muntz family, who retained ownership of the sculpture until recently.