This is one of the most important and historic classical sculptures ever to be offered for sale at auction. One of the best known Roman copies of the Medici Venus type, she is beautiful in her own right. In addition she holds a seminal place in the history of European taste and collecting. She belonged to the celebrated Barberini collection in Rome before 1738 and was sold for what was generally held to be the highest price paid for any antiquity sent from Rome to England in the 18th Century, at the height of the Grand Tour. (The highest recorded price of £1000 was paid by the Hon. James Hugh Smith Barry for a colossal statue of Antinous excavated by Gavin Hamilton at Ostia in 1775. The Jenkins Venus was known to have cost significantly more). She held pride of place in the finest gallery ever designed for the display of a collection of ancient sculpture in 18th Century England.
The Jenkins Venus represents the sensual aspect of the great goddess of love, nature and fertility, known to the Greeks as Aphrodite and identified as Venus by the Romans. The cult of Aphrodite was widely followed throughout the Classical world, her most well-known sanctuaries and temples being at Corinth, Paphos on Cyprus, Knidos in Caria and on the Greek islands of Kos and Cythera.
Praxiteles and The Medici Venus:
The renowned 4th Century B.C. Greek sculptor, Praxiteles, inspired later generations to produce variations of the most famous statue in classical antiquity, his graceful sculpture of the naked goddess, the Aphrodite of Knidos. With Praxiteles' characteristic soft and sensitive modelling, the Knidian Aphrodite was created as the absolute feminine ideal, both in bodily form and in pose. With her head turned slightly to the left, glancing downwards, her right hand was drawn across her lower body and the left lifting drapery from a hydria beside her, the upper torso leant forward with weight borne on her right leg. This statue became the standard and inspiration for later sculptors, particularly during Hellenistic times, circa 2nd Century B.C., when a number of variations on the Knidos Aphrodite were created - some of the types, now known from later Roman copies, include the Medici Venus (Uffizi, Florence) and the Capitoline Venus (Capitoline Museum, Rome). The Jenkins Venus is one of the finest Roman copies of the Medici type. With both the Jenkins and the Medici Venus, the most important changes from Praxiteles' Knidian original include her head turned further to the side with gaze ahead not downward, the left rather than right hand shielding her lower body, her right hand across her breasts, and her upper body more upright with weight borne on her left leg.
The Birth of Aphrodite:
The statue's support in the form of an alabastron is rich with symbolism. Resting on the top of the vessel is a scallop shell, for which the Greek name (kteis) also meant the female genitals. The shell alludes to the legend surrounding the marine Birth of Aphrodite, in which the castrated genitals of the god Ouranos (Heaven) were flung into the sea by his son, Cronos. White foam exuded from the genitals as they floated on the surface of the water and from this foam the beautiful goddess was born. The gentle West Wind, Zephyros, carried her on a scallop shell across the sea to the coast of Cythera, finally emerging from the shell and foaming waves on the coast of Cyprus. Here she was greeted, dressed and bejewelled by the Horae (Seasons) who accompanied the goddess to the assembly of the gods on Mount Olympus. The swimming dolphins depicted on the distinctive armlet of The Jenkins Venus allude to the goddess' marine birth, as dolphins were one of her emblems.
The Judgment of Paris:
The apples hanging from the entwining branches on the alabastron and in the basket below are also attributes of Aphrodite. The beautiful and sensual goddess' appearance on Mount Olympus inflamed feminine jealousies amongst the other goddesses and the apples are a reminder of the Judgment of Paris. At the marriage celebration of Peleus and Thetis, a golden apple inscribed "For the Fairest" was thrown among the guests by Eris (Discord) who was the only deity not to be invited. The three goddesses, Aphrodite, Hera and Athena, all claimed the apple and, to settle the dispute, Zeus chose the mortal Paris to choose between the goddesses. Hera and Athena promised wealth, power and victory in battle to Paris if he chose them. Aphrodite used her seductive feminine charms by loosening and letting fall her robe and promising Paris the most beautiful mortal woman, Helen. As the inevitable winner of the golden apple, Aphrodite's supremacy as the most beautiful of the Immortals was secured. The apple was the attribute not only of Aphrodite but also of the Three Graces who were her handmaidens.
"Sine Bacco et Cerere friget Venus":
Around the alabastron of The Jenkins Venus play three Erotes who are companions of the goddess' son, Eros (known to the Romans as Cupid). In Hellenistic times, Eros and his playmates are depicted as chubby naked winged boys, often mischievous and playful, and it is as such that they are depicted here clambering up the statue's support, collecting apples and grapes. In Philostratos the Elder's Imagines, I:6, a scene set in an orchard with a shrine of Aphrodite is described. Here Erotes play before a cult statue of the goddess, pick apples which are sacred to her, and gather them in baskets. So it is that the Roman playwright, Terence, quotes the saying "Sine Baccho et Cerere friget Venus", in The Eunuch, 732 - without Bacchus (symbolising wine) and Ceres (festive food), Venus or Love grows cold. Thus the bunches of grapes and abundant fruit depicted alongside The Jenkins Venus, emphasize not only her aspects of nature and fertility, but also the essential food of love.
HOMERIC HYMN TO APHRODITE
Golden crowned, beautiful
is who I shall sing,
she possesses the heights
of all sea-wet Cyprus
where Zephyros swept her
with his moist breath
over the waves
of the roaring sea
in soft foam.
In their circles of gold
the Hours joyously
the ambrosial garments around her.
On her immortal head they laid a crown of gold
that was wonderfully made
and in the pierced lobes of her ears
flowers of copper
from the mountains
and precious gold.
Round her delicate throat
and her silvery breasts
necklaces of gold
the gold-filleted Hours,
when they go
to the lovely dances of the gods
in their father's house.
And when they had arranged
all these decorations
on her body
then they led her
to the immortal gods
who saw her
and welcomed her
and reached out their hands
towards her longing
every one of them,
to take her home
to be his lawful wife,
so enraptured were they all
with the beauty of the Cytherean
crowned in violets.
Grant me victory
in this contest.
Favour my song
and in another song also
I shall remember you.
(First Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, trans. by J. Cashford)
Baring, L. and Cashford, J., The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, London, 1991, pp. 349-364.
Cornforth, J., Newby Hall, North Yorkshire, in Country Life, 7 June 1979; 14 June 1979; 25 December 1980; and 17 July 1997.
Farnell, L. R., The Cults of the Greek States, II, New York, 1977, pp. 618-730.
Harris, E., The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors, Yale, 2001, pp. 212-231.
Hussey, C., Newby Hall, Yorkshire - II, in Country Life, 19 June 1937, p. 688ff.
Ingamells, J., A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, London, 1997, pp. 732 and 986-987.
Kenworthy-Browne, J. K., Designing around the Statues, in Apollo, April 1993, pp. 248-252 which discusses the use of the Medici Venus in English sculpture galleries of the 1750s.
Lees-Milne, J., The Age of Adam, London, 1947, p. 117.
Low, J., Newby Hall: Two Late Eighteenth-Century Inventories, in Furniture History, XXII, 1986, p. 135ff.
Montfauçon, Father, (trans. by D. Humphrey), Antiquity Explained and represented in Sculptures, I, London, 1721, pp. 100-104 on different representations of Venus.
Stillman, D., English Neo-Classical Architecture, I, London, 1988, pp. 309-310.
Vaughan, G., James Hugh Smith Barry as a Collector of Antiquities, in Apollo, June 1987, pp. 6 and 9.
A HIGHLY IMPORTANT ROMAN MARBLE STATUE OF VENUS, OF MEDICI TYPE
THE JENKINS VENUS
Also known as the Barberini Venus
THE PROPERTY OF THE COMPTON FAMILY
Of all the private collections of ancient sculpture in Great Britain, one of the most important is to be found at Newby Hall, near Ripon, North Yorkshire. The greater part was brought back from Rome in 1765 by the notable collector William Weddell (1736-92), and ever since the collection has remained virtually unaltered in the fine Neo-Classical sculpture gallery which Weddell commissioned Robert Adam to design. The most famous sculpture in this collection is without doubt The Jenkins Venus, also known as The Barberini Venus.
Richard Elcock Weddell bought Newby Hall in 1748 and on his death in 1762 his son, William, inherited the whole estate. The following year, aged 26, William embarked on his travels. English gentlemen had been travelling to Italy with its flourishing Universities in pursuit of higher culture ever since the 16th Century. It was not until the 18th Century that the Grand Tour through continental Europe, particularly France and Italy, came to be regarded as the sine qua non of a polished education, with the appreciation of art an essential component. On return a gentleman could expect to enjoy a reputation as a connoisseur and an expert on all matters of taste. On occasion admission to the Society of Dilettanti followed, as was the case with William Weddell who became a member on his return from Italy in 1766, having been proposed by his kinsman Thomas Robinson (later 2nd Lord Grantham).
Until the 18th Century English collections of antiquities had consisted mainly of small, easily portable objects such as coins, intaglios and bronzes. Only a few very wealthy and powerful patrons, most notably Charles I and Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey (1585-1646), were able to acquire ancient sculpture. This was to change dramatically by the second half of the 18th Century. As the craze for classical art and sculpture swept over Britain and the rest of Europe, Rome established itself as the centre to which English milordi flocked in pursuit of culture and Souvenirs. Adolf Michaelis, the renowned German historian of ancient art, called this period the 'Golden Age of Classic Dilettantism' remarking: "In an unintermitting stream the ancient marbles of Rome poured into the palaces of the aristocracy in Britain whose wealth in some cases afforded the means of gratifying real artistic taste by these rare possessions, and in others enabled them at any rate to fall into the new fashion of dilettantism, the 'furore' for ancient art". Opportunities for purchasing marbles abounded at this time as some of the great Roman collections were dispersed (Barberini, Giustiniani, Ludovisi and others); speculative excavations were also undertaken which yielded vast quantities of treasures.
The market was largely controlled by a number of Britons residing in Rome who acted as agents between Italian families and Cardinals who wished to sell to the predominantly English clientele. These agents employed Italian restorers and worked with notable sculptors of the day, such as Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, Piranesi and Joseph Nollekens, and also undertook their own excavations. The most notable of these were the painter Gavin Hamilton (1730-97) and the flamboyant Thomas Jenkins (1722-98) who, lacking success as a painter, became immensely wealthy dealing in paintings and antiquities. He was resident banker to the English at Rome and enjoyed the patronage and confidence of Pope Clement XIV, acting as unofficial British Ambassador to the Holy See.
William Weddell accompanied by his Cambridge friend, the Rev. William Palgrave, arrived in Rome on 23 December 1764. They had been given letters of introduction to both Gavin Hamilton and Thomas Jenkins and, as Palgrave wrote, those letters "were not in vain for Weddell is buying such a quantity of pictures, marbles etc as will astonish the West Riding of Yorkshire". Weddell seems to have dealt mostly with Jenkins. Sadly his purchases are not well documented but the lettere di passo from the papal chamberlain's office mention 19 chests full of antiquities which were dispatched to England between March and May 1765.
The gem of the collection, and the most famous of Weddell's acquisitions, was the fine Barberini Venus which was bought from Jenkins for an undisclosed and reputedly astronomical sum. The circumstances of the sale were shrouded in mystery as Weddell also paid an annuity that ceased with death and, being always personally paid, the amount remained unknown. Jenkins told Thomas Robinson, Weddell's kinsman who had provided their introduction: "My Venus is also sold but I have orders not to say to whom". Jenkins had experienced much difficulty in obtaining permission for export "which would never have been obtained had it not been for the fortunate Circumstances of its being a Naked female" (the lettera di passo for the Venus was successfully obtained on 17 May 1765).
The Venus was much commented on and various accounts circulated as to her acquisition and restoration. Michaelis summarized the accounts given by Dallaway (after Pacili and Hamilton) and by Heyne (after Casanova) and mentions that the German scholar Winckelmann alludes to it in many parts of his works. From these authorities it appears that Gavin Hamilton discovered the statue in the cellars of the Barberini Palace. One account then has Hamilton giving the statue to the sculptor Pacili in exchange for another marble, the latter restoring it and adding a head before selling it to Jenkins for 1,000 scudi. Another account has Jenkins buying it direct from Hamilton still headless and giving it to Cavaceppi to restore. Michaelis writes: "In 1765 Weddell bought the statue from Jenkins according to Casanova for 16,000 scudi (about £3,500), according to Heyne for £6,000; Dallaway gives the purchase money at a different figure and makes it, including the cost of transmission to England, more than £1,000 or, as he says in another place, £1,500. A story is current at Newby that with regard to the price inviolable silence was promised and observed on both sides; this circumstance would account for the enormous difference in the above given sums. In Winckelmann's last two letters the King of England is spoken of as the purchaser, but such a statement was only a blind of Jenkins, or of Mr Weddell's agent, to ensure the export of the valuable specimen from the papal government."
One can imagine the pride with which Weddell brought his prize back to England. A statue of Venus was the ultimate acquisition for a collector of sculpture in the 18th Century, being the embodiment of love and beauty so fundamental to the ideas of art appreciation. The famous Venus de'Medici, which was installed in the Tribuna of the Uffizi in Florence in 1688, attracted extraordinary attention and was hailed as one of the half-dozen finest antique statues to have survived. The praise heaped upon her by writers and poets in the 18th Century and the adulation of visitors verged on hysteria. Numerous copies and casts of the sculpture were made. Several statues of the same type were known in the 18th Century, all ultimately inspired by the famous Aphrodite of Knidos created by the 4th Century B.C. Greek sculptor Praxiteles, as the absolute ideal of feminine beauty both in bodily form and pose. Travellers debated as to which was the most beautiful. One of these was The Jenkins Venus, which was undoubtedly the finest statue of Venus to come to England and arguably the most beautiful known antiquity of her day. (A cast of her was taken to Hanover and received the highest praise).
On his return to England in 1766 Weddell joined Edward Gibbon's Roman Club and the Society of Dilettanti, was returned to Parliament as Member for Hull, and immediately set about the designing of a sculpture gallery fit to house his newly acquired collection. From the drawings at Newby it is apparent that Weddell had contact with most of the leading Neo-Classical architects of the time. He chose Robert Adam to design the gallery, partially based on a plan drawn up by Weddell himself. Weddell was ahead of his time in commissioning a gallery specifically to exhibit his statuary. The sculpture gallery at Newby remains "the best example in this country of the beau ideal of a classical cognoscente, with its meticulous reconstruction of a Roman interior according to the evidence of Herculaneum and the catacombs" and observing great harmony between the scale of the gallery and its contents. Adam's design consisted of a domed cylindrical centre section, inspired by the Pantheon, linked to two square chambers by lower tunnel-vaulted passages. The vaults, dome, apse, niches and walls were decorated with refined Neo-Classical plasterwork including flowered lozenge compartment decoration in the rotunda (in which the Venus stood) evoking the Temple of Venus in Rome and thus immediately highlighting Venus as being the presiding genius.
William Weddell's sudden death in 1792, recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine obituary, seemed directly connected with his passion for antiques and his classical belief in bathing: " [died] suddenly on entering the cold bath in Surrey Street in the Strand [the celebrated Roman bath] tempted by the extreme heat of the day, regretted by all who knew him and in the 68th year of his age, William Weddell Esq., Member of Parliament for Malton. He had walked into the bath up to his middle when he was seized with a sudden internal chill, and, before he could retire, expired. His name, written in his hat, discovered who he was to the bath keeper, who immediately sent word to his house, where some friends, with his lady, were awaiting his return to dinner". A fine monument stands in Ripon Cathedral enshrining a bust of William Weddell by Joseph Nollekens, standing on a plinth carved with the epitaph: "To the memory of William Weddell Esq., of Newby, in whom every virtue that enobles the human mind was united with every elegance that adorns it, this monument, a faint emblem of his refined taste, is dedicated by his widow".
On his death, since he and his wife Elizabeth had no children, Newby Hall was bequeathed to a nephew, Lord Grantham (later Earl de Grey), from whom it passed through the Vyner family to the Compton family. The Venus is being offered for sale in order to pay for vital restoration work to Newby Hall and its Stables. The Stables were commissioned by Weddell and built by William Belwood, a protégé of Robert Adam, in the 1780s and are Grade One listed.
63¾ in. (162 cm.) high
C. G. Heyne, Sammlung antiquarischer Aufsätze, I, 1779, p. 140; C. G. Heyne, "Des différentes manières de représenter Vénus dans les ouvrages de l'art" in Recueil de piéces intéressantes concernant les Antiquités, I, Paris, 1787, pp. 33-34; J. J. Winckelmann (ed. by W. Rehm), Briefe, III, 1956, pp. 42, 44, 103-104 and 106; J. Dallaway, Anecdotes of the Arts in England, London, 1800, pp. 349-350, no. 1; A Sketch of the Life of Charles Townley, London, 1812, p. 6; J. Dallaway, Of Statuary and Sculpture among the Antients, London, 1816, p. 345; Specimens of Antient Sculpture, Selected from Several Collections in Great Britain, II, London, 1835, engraved pl. 13; Le Comte F. de Clarac, Museé de Sculpture, IV, Paris, 1850, p. 114, no. 1394, engraved pl. 622B; A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Cambridge, 1882, pp. 77 and 527-529, no. 20; Newby Hall, Ripon, in Country Life, 13 June 1914; A. T. Bolton, The Works of Robert and James Adam, London, 1922, p. 141; F. Muthmann, Statuenstützen und dekoratives Beiwerk an griechischen und römischen Bildwerken, Heidelberg, 1951, pp. 86-87 and 225; C. C. Vermeule, Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, in American Journal of Archaeology, 59, 1955, p. 143, pl. 45, fig. 23; H. Oehler, Hand list to the Photographic Exhibition 'Classical Sculptures in English Private Collections', Cologne, 1978, pp. 41-42; G. B. Waywell, Classical Sculptures in English Country Houses: a Hand-Guide, London, 1978, p. 37, no. 20; F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900, Yale, 1982, p. 326 and pl. on p. 69; H. Oehler, Foto + Skulptur: Römische Antiken in englischen Schlössern, Cologne, 1980, pp. 76-77, no. 73, pl. 3; S. Howard, Eighteenth Century Restorer, New York and London, 1982, pp. 67-69 and 255, no. 8, figs. 152-155; and C. A. Picón, exhibition catalogue, Bartolomeo Cavaceppi: Eighteenth-Century Restorations of Ancient Marble Sculpture from English Private Collections, London, 1983, pp. 4 and 48-51, no. 9.
Barberini collection, Palazzo Barberini, Rome (itemized inventory: Docum. inedit. per servire alla storia dei Musei d'Italia, IV, 1738, p. 48).
William Weddell (1736-1792) of Newby Hall.
3rd Lord Grantham, later Earl de Grey (1781-1859).
Lady Mary Robinson (1809-1892).
Robert de Grey Vyner (1842-1915).
Lady (Mary) Alwyne Compton Vyner (1866-1957) and by descent to the Compton family.