Bust of an African man ca 1700

John Nost II Bust of an African man Kensington Palace
John Nost II, Bust of an African man, ca 1700, Kensington Palace

This impressive, lifelike bust was produced around 1700 in England by John Nost II (d1729), a sculptor of Flemish origin.

Traditionally this African man has been identified as a favourite personal servant of stadtholder William III 1650- March 19 1702, who ruled as King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689.

Stadhouder Koning Willem III
Romeyn de Hooghe, Stadhouder Willem III ca 1672, collectie Teylers Museum en elders

African servants were usually depicted in the shadow of their ‘lord’ or ‘lady’. An individual portrait such as this bust is very rare in English sculpture.

John Nost II Bust of an African
John Nost II Bust of an African

The luxurious clothing and ornate necklace form a stark contrast to the slave collar, which expressly denotes the man as a slave. Who he was, is unknown.

We do know that a number of people of African descent worked at The Hague court under William III (amoung others: ‘de moor’ Jan van Dam around 1667). The army with which William invaded England in 1688 reportedly included 200 people from Suriname.

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