Saturday 25 January 2014

A Recently discovered Plaster Bust of Handel

A Summary of Researches into a Plaster Bust of Handel. 

22" tall x 15" wide attributed to the manufacture of John Cheere, circa 1750 -1760. 

Perhaps after an original by Louis Francois Roubiliac.


 An Eighteenth Century, Plaster, three quarter life size, with original painted surface.

                 The bust is 17" tall without the socle, 22” including socle.


This bust conforms in the facial details, with all the Roubiliac versions of Handel, except that it lacks the mole or wart on his left cheek, although it appears to represent a somewhat younger Handel than the known busts and is closest to the Vauxhall Handel now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Comparisons with the Grimsthorpe terra cotta would suggest that the terra cotta is a much later version of a bust of Handel by Roubiliac where he looks considerably older.

 There were 5 plaster busts, a terra cotta and two moulds for busts of Handel sold at the sale of the contents of the Roubiliac Studio in 1762.

The Harris Correspondence (see below) confirms the existence of plaster busts of Handel by Roubiliac as early as 1741.

A reasonable starting point for sources of information for the Handel portraits comes from the National Portrait Gallery Exhibition Catalogue of 1985:-

Handel; A Celebration of his Life and Times. (1685 -1759).

For more detailed and up to date information : -

The Sculpture Journal, Vol. 16.2 2007.

A detailed study in The British Art Journal, Vol. X no. 1 Spring / Summer 2009.

The Three so called “Life Masks”.

There is a recent article written by David Coke in the Sculpture Journal Vol. 16.2. 2007 on the Vauxhall Gardens Handel by Roubiliac.

In it is illustrated the three quarter profile of the "life mask" which Coke suggests is a copy of one taken by Roubiliac (the first published mention of a life mask is in the Mirror, 19 July 1834, I can find no previous reference to this or any other mask).


I have also discovered that there is another cast of this mask in the collection in Germany, of Alexander Schubert (see

This is a slightly better cast showing a little more of the hair and neck.

It is very much my belief that these masks were in fact taken from a painted version of the Grimsthorpe Castle terra cotta, (there is a painted plaster version of this bust at Gloucester cathedral), this would explain the lack of definition of his facial features on these life masks and therefore shows that they are probably not life or death masks. The depiction of the pupils of the eye is another pointer.

Of particular note are the similarities of the details of the hair on the forehead and the incising of the pupils of the eye.

The Grimsthorpe terra cotta of Handel by Roubiliac.


David Coke obtained his photograph from a photograph pasted into the extra-illustrated Archdeacon Coxe memoir of Handel & Smith at The Foundling Museum Library.


The Handel House Museum at Brooke St, London recently exhibited yet another version of the “life mask” belonging to an English Collector.


                                    The John Bishop Bust of Handel.

I have been in contact with Katherine Hogg the librarian at the Foundling Hospital, who whilst looking for the photograph of the life mask discovered a photograph of our bust or a version of it in the Archdeacon Coxe Memoirs at the Foundling Hospital Library.

On the back of this photograph is a label which states - ‘G.F. Handel. From a bust in the possession of John Bishop, of Cheltenham. Photo J.H.B.  Registered.’.

John Bishop (1818 -1890) arranged various works by Handel for publication.

Notes from Richard King. University of Maryland.

The note mentioned in the National Portrait Gallery catalogue (p. 45) is almost certainly that found in Schoelcher’s catalogue of his collection (Bibliothèque nationale, shelf number: Rés. V.S. 1080, pp. 720-21). Here is what he wrote:

Masque de Handel photografalicé[?] d’après un platre par J. Bishop et fils.

Il existe au British Museum dans la[continuation hidden by binding] d’un graveur à l’eau forte, nommé D. Rea[continuation hidden by binding] (un amateur) une tête grosse et vulgar qu’il marque ‘Handel—From a picture in his possession by Hogarth” I; n’y a [ai?] jamais eu d’autres exemplaires de cette planche que les deux que possède the British Museum. Il [indecipherable word] parait douteux que ce soit réellement un portrait de Handel.

Concerning the date of Schoelcher’s note:

1. In his Life of Handel (published 1857), Schoelcher discusses the “death mask” taken by Roubiliac (p. 355), and then writes: “A few proofs of that precious mould have been taken and distributed, but I have been unable to find a copy anywhere, and the oldest amateurs tell me that they have never seen one. I only know of its existence through a little woodcut, which is itself of excessive rarity.” (p. 356)

2. The MS catalogue in Paris, from which the note above was transcribed, cannot be dated precisely, but it appears to have been written in the 1860s, and to have been donated to the Paris Conservatoire in 1872.

Schoelcher would have learned about the Bishop cast sometime between 1857 and 1872

The closest version of a Handel bust to our bust is the Grimsthorpe Castle terra cotta bust by Roubiliac. Our bust is certainly very close to the Roubiliac sculptures of Handel. The eyebrows are very similar in detail. I have images of this terra cotta provided by the Curator at Grimsthorpe (who can find no record of when it was acquired acquisition).

Grimsthorpe is the family seat of the Berties, Dukes of Ancaster.

The plaster bust at Gloucester cathedral appears to have been a version of the Grimsthorpe terra cotta.

 There is a painted plaster version of the Grimsthorpe Castle terra cotta at the Handle House Museum in Halle, Germany. (see attached HH-bust-face.jpg)

The article in The British Art Journal Vol X no 1 by David Wilson states that this bust was fabricated for the Haendl Haus in 1997.

                        The Fenwick Bull Plaster Busts of Handel.

 There are two mentions in the mid Eighteenth Century London Press of sculpted plaster images of Handel.

 Evening Post, 15th March 1751. "To be published by subscription, a figure in plaister of Paris of the celebrated Mr Handel, taken from the statue at Vauxhall. Conditions - the price to the subscriber is one guinea and a half; half a guinea to be paid at the time of subscribing, and the remainder on the delivery, which will be in May next. Subscriptions are taken at Mr Fosters on Ludgate Hill, where the model may be seen.

This is unlikely to refer to the maquette of the Vauxhall Handel, Vertue described this maquette in 1751, as “the model in clay baked of Mr Handel done by Mr Roubiliac - the same from which the Foxhall statue in Foxhall Gardens was done….. this model near 2 foot high is in the posses of Mr Hudson painter”

 The Public Advertiser, 19th April 1758. An edition of thirty casts was advertised for sale by subscription by F. Bull. 

To the lovers of music particularly those who admire the compositions of Geo Frederick Handel esq. F.Bull at the White Horse Ludgate Hill, London having at Great expense procured a fine model of a busto of Mr Handel proposes to sell by subscription thirty casts in plaister of Paris. The subscription money which is to be paid at the time of subscribing, and for which a receipt will be given, is one guinea and the cast in the order in which they are finished and will be delivered in the order in which the subscriptions are made. The busto which will make a rich and elegant piece of furniture... to be twenty three and a half high and eighteen inches broad. The model may be viewed until Monday next at the place above mentioned.

I have since discovered that Fenwick Bull was a map and print seller at The White Horse, Ludgate Hill who married Elizabeth Foster of St Martin’s Ludgate Hill at St Georges Chapel, Mayfair – 25 March 1753.

George Foster (the father of Elizabeth Foster, wife of Fenwick Bull) - who was a publisher, printer, map-seller, bookseller, in London. was at the White Horse, St Paul's Churchyard (1737-9); and afterwards at the White Horse, Ludgate Hill (1741-7). information from Royal Academy

Further references to Fenwick Bull. –

1747 in the subscribers list of “Twelve Sonatas for Two Violins” by William Boyce.

Daily Advertiser. 21 Aug 1752. Foster, Elizabeth. This day is publish'd (Price 2s 6d) printed on three sheets of Elephant paper ... a new and exact map of the city of London, Westminster and Southwark, to this present year 1752 ... Printed for ans sold by Eliz. Foster, Map and Print, at the White Horse on Ludgate-Hill ...

Daily Advertiser. 15 Jul 1753. This day is publish'd (price 2s.) From a painting of Highmore's,  A metzotinto print, done by Faber, of the late Francis Columbine ... Printed for Fenwick Bull, map and print-seller, at the White Horse on Ludgate Hill.

London Evening Post 5-7 June 1753: F. Bull - “fine English and French prints neatly framed” …”figures in plaster of Paris, bronzed and plain from the most celebrated poets and antique statues, highly finished”

Public Advertiser.10 May 1757:- A complete set of the Luxembourg Gallery, good impressions and well preserved in frames and glasses, to be sold cheap at F. Bulls Print shop on Ludgate Hill, London where the most money is given for collections of prints and drawings.

There is an engraving by P Boitard published by Fenwick Bull of the White Horse Ludgate Hill June 1753 of the “Celebrated Scottish Equilibrist.

Daily Advertiser 7 Nov 1761 Bull, Mr. To all true Britons. This day is publish'd (Price 1s) A curious copper plate print of the true likeness of her present Majesty Queen Charlotte ... To be had at Mr. Rocque's in the Strand; and at Bull's Printshop, Ludgate-street, facing the Old Baily ...

Fenwick Bull later emigrated to America. He was certainly in South Carolina before 1762 where he seems to have reinvented himself as a Loyalist, Tory, slave owner, Justice of the Peace and public notary at Charles Town. He lived with but did not marry Christiana Hoff, was later disgraced, horsewhipped and ostracized for attempting to bribe a jockey to fix a race. He lived at 93 East Bay Street. His estate was confiscated and he died 1778.

I have found an illustration of his trade card which appears to show the plaster Scheemakers statuette of the Westminster Abbey Shakespeare monument installed in 1741, which Cheere produced in plaster. (Example at York Castle Museum).

Whilst by no means conclusive it would seem likely that Fenwick Bulls shop on Ludgate Hill was retailing John Cheere’s plaster productions in the 1750’s and our bust is one of the edition of thirty of Handel’s bust advertised in The Public Advertiser, 19th April 1758.

If the Mirror is to be believed (and personally I am very skeptical) then it would seem most likely that our bust could be an early version of Handel by Roubiliac, cast, perhaps when working with the Cheere brothers. It appears to show a younger Handel.

 The socle matches those on the Plaster busts by Cheere illustrated in the Man at Hyde Park Corner (1974) by Timothy Clifford, but so far I can find no record of a Cheere Handel.

The existence of a lead version of this bust in Ireland in the early 20th century would add credence to this theory.

It seems most likely that Cheere would have produced a bust of Handel, as he produced busts of many other 18th Century celebrities.

           Charles Harris and Richard Parker Plaster Figure and Busts, Circa 1780.

Our bust does not seem to accord with the casts of Handel sold in 3 sizes by Charles Harris noted in his catalogue of circa 1780. (National Arts Library).

Harris was advertising busts in three sizes of Handel in his catalogue of c.1780 - large as life, 16" to 18" and 11" (National Arts Library). This size is very close to the N.P.G terra cotta. The Fitzwilliam Bronze is 11 5/8” tall.

Harris is noted at 162 Strand, London Kent’s Directory 1794.

Charles Harris (d.1795) described as of the Strand, opposite the New Church (St Mary le Strand) an undated trade card gives his address as The Alfred’s head opposite the New Church, Strand

It might be a coincidence but Harris provided the monument for the third and fourth Duke of Ancasters (of Grimsthorpe) at Edenham Parish Church in Lincolnshire, they died in 1778 and 1779 ). The Roubiliac Terra cotta of Handel is at Grimsthorpe. It is therefore possible that the Grimsthorpe terra cotta is the source for the Gloucester Cathedral and Haendel Haus Museum’s plaster busts. There is clear evidence on the Grimsthorpe terra cotta of damage perhaps firing cracks which would have been filled and over painted!! See photographs.

Harris was in partnership with Richard Parker by 1776, working at Parkers premises in the Strand, opposite the New Church with second premises in Bond Street, Bath.

Richard Parker specialized in making casts. There was a set of busts by him at Ashburnham Place, Sussex, - Locke, Milton, Congreve, Prior, See Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors .Roscoe. 2009) Parker is mentioned as Statuary of The Strand bankrupt in The Gentleman’s Magazine and The Town and Country Magazine in October, 1776.

Parker was employed by Wedgwood, their archives contain a letter from their London agent William Cox which states “Mr Parker has cast the medallions off in the best manner him and I could well contrive. I should be glad of your notes respecting the propriety or Deserts of the Performance. (Wedgwood/ParkerE5/30873 undated)

Theodore Parker, father of Richard supplied Wedgwood in 1769 with a figure of Shakespeare. In 1769 Theodore supplied Wedgwood with Flora, Seres, Spencer, Hercules, Seres Large Juno, Prudence, Milton and Shakespeare (Wedgwood/Parker L1/73, Theodore Parker acct Sept 1769 – 18 Dec 1769
Also supplied ‘Bracket open work’, ‘a boy a couch’ 3 dogge. Same refs
1774, Richard Parker supplied busts to Wedgwood & Bentley see Plagiarism personified. European pottery and porcelain figures, Julia Poole 1986.

Busts Zingara and Vestal and Pug Dog 10th Feb 1774. On the bill is the printed heading
Scagliola;/or Plaster casts of Elegant subjects/ proper to introduce into the decoration of rooms, staircases, halls etc/ Richard Parker/ Opposite the new curch in the Strand/ having obtained from Joseph Wilton Esq. statuary to his majesty,/ various moulds of bas reliefs and bustos, made upon his original models / has the honour to acquaint the nobility and gentry, that they may be accommodated with casts at the shortest notice, Sundry samples of which with/ their prices may be seen at the above RICHARD PARKER’S / N.B. These original casts can be had at no other place; and although it may happen/ that some figure makers may clandestinely make moulds of any of those casts, they can / produce at best but an impression void of every original touch’.

Richard Parker - In 1785 in Biographical anecdotes of William Hogarth: with a catalogue of his works by John Nichols ... - Page 20 mentions a catalogue of the Statues, Bustos, etc of Richard Parker Statuary in the Strand and Hogarth’s Pug Dog.

There is a bill in the British Museum from Parker and Harris signed by Richard Parker for £1 -12 shillings for busts of Dryden and Virgil for the Earl of Winterton dated 18th June 1776.


The Lead version of the Plaster Bust of Handel in Ireland.

 I have recently discovered a Country Life photograph of the Gardens designed by Edwin Lutyens at Heywood, Co. Laois, Eire taken in 1917 showing a lead version of our bust in a niche, probably provided by Lutyens. Also shown are busts of Shakespeare and Cicero in lead! Both are the same models as those illustrated in the Man at Hyde Park Corner - Temple Newsam Catalogue by Timothy Clifford, all three busts are long gone. This leads me to believe that our bust was probably from Cheeres workshop.



The 1784 Handel Commemorative Medal.

 There is a commemorative medal of 1784, which shows our bust in profile, illustrated in the NPG Exhibition Catalogue (page 255).

This certainly proves the existence of a version of our bust prior to 1784.

I am aware of most up to date research on Roubiliac. Nobody really seems to know exactly what he was doing from 1730, when he first came to England until his arrival fully formed with the Vauxhall Handel in 1738. In all likelihood he was probably working on an ad hoc basis for the Cheere and Carter primarily making chimneypieces but certainly producing busts and other sculpture, and perhaps restoring antiquities. (He produced a bust of Senesino in 1735, Senesino was also painted by Thomas Hudson in 1735).
Whilst not a great work of art, this plaster bust would seem to be a very rare and early, unrecorded portrait bust of Handel, cast by John Cheere and marketed as a limited edition of thirty, by Fenwick Bull at the Sign of the White Horse on Ludgate Hill, London.

The Roubiliac Sculptures of Handel.
Vertue notes busts of Handel, Pope, and Newton in the Roubiliac studio in 1741
The life size, full length, marble figure of Handel was made for Vauxhall Gardens and unveiled in 1738. It is now in the V&A.
Terra Cotta Maquette of the Vauxhall Handel, 47 cms in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge.
The statuette first belonged to Thomas Hudson, a friend of Roubiliac. Nathaniel Smith bought it at auction at Christie’s on c. 26th February 1785, lot 37; purchased by Nathaniel Smith and sold by him to his master, Joseph Nollekens; Nollekens sale, 3rd July, 1823, lot 60 (as Carlini), purchased by 'Hamlet, the silversmith', presumably Thomas Hamlet; probably purchased for Northwick Park at Hamlet's sale held by Robins, 29th July, 1833 (only recorded copy of the sale cat. derives from the Northwick Park Library); Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill, Northwick, by whom given to the Fitzwilliam Museum.

1. The Foundling Museum Terra cotta portrait bust with turban, presented in 1844, by Sir Frederick Pollock, 1st Bart (1783 -1870) 28.2” tall. Gerald Coke Collection.

This bust is the only bust by Roubiliac that shows the prominent mole or wart on his left cheek which is shown in the engraving by Jacobus Houbraken, with a decorative border by Hubert Gravelot (Drg B.M.) issued only to subscribers to the score of Handel's dramatic ode Alexander’s Feast (advertised in The Country Journal 22 April 1738) first mentioned in the London Daily Post 15 Jun 1737.

A Marble version of the Foundling /Coke terra cotta bust of Handel in the Royal Collection (one of two versions in the Royal Collection).

Roubiliac Marble bust of Handel, Royal Collection.

                            Inscribed HANDEL / AETATIS SUAE 54 / MDCCXXXIX.
2. The Windsor Castle, Marble bust, 1739, a version of the terra cotta above with Turban, Royal Collection. According to Coxes Anecdotes (1799) the marble was owned by Handel, who gave it to JC Smith who in turn with Handel’s music manuscripts gave it to George III.

In 1741 George Vertue, the 18th century chronicler of the arts, recorded that ‘Mr. Rubbilac Sculptor…had Modelld from the Life several Busts of portraits extreamly like….Mr. Isaac Ware Architect Mr Handel -&c. and several others’. 


"The present bust belongs to a group of contemporary portraits by Roubiliac in which male sitters are shown in the style known as en negligé. The tasselled cap and heavy cloak with tasselled buttonholes may not have been Handel’s, since they also appear - similarly disarranged - on Roubiliac’s bust of Isaac Ware dated 1741 (Detroit Institute of Arts; version London, National Portrait Gallery). The bust was given to George III - together with a harpsichord and the majority of the composer’s manuscripts - by J.C. Smith the Younger (1712-95), the composer, organist and conductor, who had been Handel’s pupil and his amanuensis during the years of his blindness from 1752. It is probably this bust that was seen by Horace Walpole in the King’s Apartments at Buckingham House in 1783."
1. Plaster version in the Huntington Art Gallery California, ex Gambier Parry Collection, Highnam Court, Gloucester. (Thomas Gambier Parry 1816 -88) 33.5” tall.


2. Plaster casts with Foundling/Gerald Coke Collection. (Schoelcher states in 1857. “a very good cast…. has been taken and copies may be now obtained” (this probably refers to the D. Brucciani & Co. cast of the head of the Westminster Abbey Handel Monument (DB).

Plaster cast of the Westminster Monument Head by Dominico Brucciani, 52 cms tall. 
English mid 19th Century, Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge - not uncommon.

3. Plaster cast with the Czech Handel Society.
4. Bronze at Handel Haus, Halle.

Some Early saleroom references to Handel busts…..
Roubiliac sale, Langfords 1762. – 5 plaster busts, a terracotta, two moulds.

John Blackwood. Feb 1778, lot 1326. – Roubiliac - marble bust of Handel.

John Stanley, Christies, 24 Jun 1786.,lot 89 “a remarkable fine bust exquisitely modell’d, by Roubiliac”

Anonymous Sale. (perhaps the surgeon John Belchier?), Christie's 29 March 1805, (a terra cotta model for a bust of Handel.  This is a prime candidate for the Terracotta in the Foundling Museum Coke Collection.

Daniel Lysons. Environs of London II. 1795 p.22 notes in the possession of Rev. John Bacon Esq. (not the sculptor) original cast (plaster?) of Roubiliac’s bust of Handel.

3. The Roubiliac Terra cotta at Grimsthorpe. Bareheaded. No long term history.

The Grimsthorpe terra cotta bust of Handel by Roubiliac. These photographs clearly show the cracks on the face probably caused by the firing in the kiln.

A plaster version at the Handel Haus, Halle, Germany (modern) but based on the Grimsthorpe terra

Handel Haus Museum Halle Germany, plaster bust of Handel.

"In 2008 an image of a patinated plaster cast, resembling marble, in almost all respects (including measurements) practically identical with the bust at Grimsthorpe Castle, appeared on the website of the Stiftung Händel-Haus in Halle, Germany, which restated the attribution of the model to Roubiliac. Enquiries have established that the plaster cast was made for the Händel-Haus in 1997 by the gipsformerei (plaster workshop) of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin, and that the plaster was cast after an identical plaster bust in their collection bearing the signature of the German sculptor Aurelio (Mark Aurelius) Micheli (1834-1908, fl. 1860-70). Micheli specialised in portraits of notable Germans, many of them composers, and his works appear to have been issued in multiples produced by the plaster workshop of the Micheli Brothers in Berlin. There is no doubt, given the existence of the terracotta model by Roubiliac at Grimsthorpe Castle, that Micheli must have possessed either a plaster cast of the bust (no less than five plaster busts of Handel are listed in the catalogue of Roubiliac’s posthumous sale in 1762)[7] or a mould for the bust (and a plaster mould for a bust of Handel is recorded as lot 53 on the fourth day of the sculptor’s posthumous sale, 15 May 1762)".
Info lifted from London dealer David Wilsons website 2013 -

                            Another Plaster version at Gloucester Cathedral.

Scan of information at the NPG on the Gloucester Cathedral Plaster bust of Handel.

4. Roubiliac, Marble, Grimsthorpe Type (Bareheaded) in the Royal Collection. 

Located at Kew Palace in 1984. It was at Buckingham House in 1817 placed above the organ in the Queens Japan room shown in an engraving in Pyne.

The Sotheby's Marble  bust "By Heaven Inspired" - Here attributed to Roubiliac.

Another bareheaded Grimsthorpe type marble of Handel by Roubiliac was recorded in the Alfred Morrison Collection in the 19th Century. Described as life size statuary marble on socle inscribed "By Heaven Inspired". It was sold to dealer Gooden for £50. 8. 0d., lot 107, Catalogue... Earl Waldegrave ... also Sculpture from the Collection of Alfred Morrison, 10 February 1900, Christie, Manson and Woods.

David Wilson says.

Possibly the ‘remarkable fine bust of [Handel], exquisitely modell’d by Roubiliac’ in a sale of 1766;
Possibly lot 35 on the second day (21 February) of the John Blackwood sale at Christie’s in 1778, ‘Roubiliac, marble busto of Handel, on a pedestal’;
In the Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-97), at Fonthill House, Wiltshire, and 16 Carlton House Terrace, London, from c. 1860- 1897;
By descent to his widow, 16 Carlton House Terrace, London;


This magnificent bust is currently with the London Art dealer David Wilson - January 2014.

5. Bust of Handel with turban by an unidentified Sculptor.

Bronze bust in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, photographed on the Handel Bookcase.
a. Bronze at the Fitzwilliam Cambridge, 11.5/8” tall.

b. Terra cotta bust of Handel, on modern plaster socle at the NPG. 17.25” tall.
Said to have been acquired either at the sale of amateur musician William Kitchener (1775 -1827) or that of singer James Bartleman (1769 – 1821) by the conductor Sir George Smart(176 -1867) given by him to Richard Clark (1780 -1856) from whom received c. 1852 by W.F. Whitehall and given by him to NPG 1891.

If it definitely was acquired in the 18th Century then it is a candidate for the Charles Harris bust noted in his list of c.1780 (Nat. Arts Library).
c. 19th Century cast of this bust in the Coke Collection marked Brucciani (NPG cat.)
                                    5. The Roubiliac Reliefs
The subject remains to be investigated thoroughly-
1. Terra cotta, Roubiliac. - V&A.
2. Bronze, anonymous – Bremen. Not of sufficient quality to be by Roubiliac.
3. Bronze, Roubiliac formerly in the collection of F.J.B.Watson from series including Pope, Garrick, and Conyers Middleton.
4. Plaster, Soane Museum– Associated with Roubiliac from an early date (Kerslake).
6. The Roubiliac Monument to Handel in Westminster Abbey.
Much has already been written - here are the basic facts -
Terra cotta Maquette in the Ashmolean, another smaller in the Gerald Coke collection
The monument was opened on 10 July 1762, six months after the death of Roubiliac.

Three days before his death in 1759 Handel signed a codicil to his will saying he hoped he might be buried in the Abbey and desired that his executor erect a monument for him. 

The funeral was attended by about 3,000 people and the choirs of the Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and the Chapel Royal sang the service. 

His gravestone in the south transept reads "GEORGE FREDERIC HANDEL BORN YE 23 FEBRUARY 1684 DIED YE 14 OF APRIL 1759".

 The date of his birth inscribed on the stone is due to the fact that the new year in England at this period did not begin on 1 January but on 25 March (Lady Day). Therefore, to the contemporary Englishman, Handel was born in February 1684, as the year 1685 would not have begun until 25 March. The coat of arms on his gravestone is now very worn.
On the wall above his grave is a monument by the sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac (with the same inscription as on the stone but with the dates in Roman numerals). The life-size statue, unveiled in 1762, is said to be an exact likeness as the face was modelled from a death mask. Behind the figure, among clouds, is an organ with an angel playing a harp. On the left of the statue is a group of musical instruments and an open score of his most well-known oratorio Messiah, composed in 1741. Directly in front of him is the musical score I know that my Redeemer liveth.

The legend that Roubiliac modelled Handels likeness for this monument, on the “life mask” is disproved by the comparisons with the “life masks” and the Grimsthorpe terra cotta.


Roubiliac Plaster Busts of Handel in the Harris Correspondence from Music and Theatre in Handel’s World by Donald Burrows
16. April 1741, Louis Francois Roubiliac (London). To James Harris. Salusbury G565/1.
According to your order I have got a busto of Mr Handel ready to send you. I desire you would be pleased to let me know where I must direct it to and if it be necessary I put a colour on it or leave it white”.

In 1741 James Harris was involved with the purchase of busts of Handel (presumably in plaster from the sculptor Roubiliac subsequent letters show that he purchased one for the Countess of Shaftsbury, one for Charles Jennens and probably one for himself

21 April, 1741. Thomas Harris, Lincolns Inn (London). To James Harris Salisbury
Roubiliac I will call on this evening or in a day or two. Rawlins will make all the haste he can”.
P.S. I have seen Handel’s bust at Roubiliacs, and like it very well. What he meant by colouring was only making the whole of a light dun colour as the original you saw is: and what he says will keep clean better and I think it looks handsomer. If therefore you approve of that, write him word that you will have it coloured as the original is, and he says he will do it immediately”

The P.S. was probably added after T.H. had visited Roubiliac in the evening, the postmark carries the same date as the letter. Rawling was presumably copying music for J.H.

18th June 1741.Thomas Harris, Lincolns Inn, (London) to James Harris. Salisbury

P.S. I called at Roubilliacs today about the bust for Lady Shaftsbury but found it was not coloured yet so it cant be sent till the carrier sets out next week.

27 June 1742. 4th Countess of Shaftsbury (St Giles) to James Harris Salisbury. Thursday I received the bust of Handel and am very thankful to my cousin Thomas Harris for negotiating this affair for me. I have disposed of it in a place of highest eminence in my room and please myself in thinking you will approve of it. I hope soon to have an opportunity of reimbursing my cousin T Harris for this and the expenses attending its coming down…….

10 July 1741. Louis Francois Roubiliac (London) to James Harris Salisbury.

I have reciev’d your obliging letter and in answer I shall acquaint you that Mr Hendels busto shall be near ready tomorrow so I hope you will be pleased to send how to direct. You know I have Mr Popes busto which I have likewise made after life. I also have Milton’s and Newton’s so in case any of your friends should want you will be pleased to recommend them; but bustos being works by which there is little to be got but reputation, I desire that you will let your friends know that my chief talent is marble work, such as monuments, chimneys, tables, all of which I will hope to do to the satisfaction of those that will do me the honour to employ me.

24 July 1741. Lord Guernsey, Powderham, Devon to James Harris, Salisbury.

As soon as I can inform myself who is Mr Jennens carrier, I shall beg the favour of you to give Roubiliac directions how to send the bust. I shall write this post to London for a direction & order an answer to be sent to me at Salisbury, so desire you will keep the letter till I come”.

There is also an interesting note in these letters - on 10 Feb 1743. with reference to a statuette of the Shakespeare monument by Scheemakers, suggesting copies in plaster by Cheere were available at this time. This statuette was available for sale by Fenwick Bull of Ludgate Hill in the 1750’s. (see Trade card illustrated above).

            A Bill for a Plaster Bust of Handel 1753.

A bill for a plaster bust of Handel and a plaster bust of Newton sent by Roubiliac to Baptist Noel, Lord Gainsborough of Exton Leicestershire (d.1751), paid in 1753, exists see - (DE3214 box 67/3 Leicestershire Records Office).The busts mentioned could be either the bust with a turban after the terra cotta at the Foundling (marble signed and dated 1739 – Royal Collection or the Grimsthorpe type.


Reference to other Handel Busts in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

From - Some British Collectors of Music c. 1600-1960.  By A. Hyatt King, Cambridge 1963
The time of the general Handel collector did not come until well into the nineteenth century, with one notable but rather obscure exception. Nichols records in his Literary Anecdotes (vol. m, p. 739) one John Walkden, who died at Windsor in 1808 and may therefore be presumed to have been active not very long after Handel's death. Walkden was a stationer in Shoe Lane, and from his business 'acquired a handsome fortune with an unexception-able character'. Nichols goes on: 'He was passionately fond of Handel's music, of which he possessed a sufficient quantity to make a sale of six days.
At his house in Highbury Place he built a very spacious music room, in which he placed a bust of Handel over an excellent organ, on which he was a complete performer.' It is a thousand pities that no record of such a big sale (perhaps the first consisting wholly of the music of one composer) can now be traced.


From Victoria County History. A History of the County of Middlesex: Vol 6.

Whetsone and Friern Barnet Manors – The Manor House.
When occupied in 1797 by John Bacon (not Bacon the sculptor), the house contained family portraits and a bust of Handel by Roubiliac. (Lysons Environs).


The Brucianni Casts.

Schoelcher states in 1857. “a very good cast…. has been taken and copies may be now obtained” (this probably refers to the D. Brucciani &Co. cast of the Westminster Monument bust.
The Fitzwilliam has a good Domenico Brucciani plaster cast after the monument by Roubiliac in Westminster Abbey -52 cms tall. Marked D. Brucianni and Co.

Brucciani bust of Handel by Roubiliac in the Oxford Faculty of Music
Another is in the Bate Collection in Oxford – unmarked.
This cast would appear to be relatively common.


The previously unrecorded plaster bust is a cast made by John Cheere and sometime marketed by Fenwick Bull at his shop on Ludgate Hill, London, firstly in 1751 and then again as a limited edition of thirty in 1758.

This is partly based on the shape of the socle and the evidence of the existence of a further lead version of this bust, along with lead busts of Cicero and Shakespeare (known to have also been produced by Cheere - see The Man at Hyde Park Corner), once at Heywood, County Laoise in Ireland in 1917.

The panelled socle with the convex front matches those of the known Cheere busts (as illustrated in the man at Hyde Park Corner) but this of course is a generalisation - socles of this form were frequently used by Italian plaster casters working in London in the 19th Century perhaps using 18th century moulds.

The Charles Harris Busts of Handel of the 1780's were variations of the NPG Terra Cotta and the Fitzwilliam Bronze, the sizes of which correspond very closely with those mentioned in his catalogue. It is possible that the Harris busts were the Grimsthorpe type but only the life size version is known to exist so far.

The top of the socle of these two busts uses a form much favoured by Cavaceppi in Rome and Joseph Nollekins in the mid to late 18th century.

The so called "life mask" first mentioned on 19 July 1834 in the Mirror is not a life or death mask but a cast taken from an over painted plaster version of the Grimsthorpe terra cotta, which it matches exactly in the details of the hair, eyebrows and eyes. It therefore follows that none of the representations of Handel are derived from this so called life mask.

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