Saturday 27 June 2015

Grimsthorpe bust of Handel

The Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire, Terracotta Bust of Handel by Louis Francois Roubiliac.
Circa 1738.

28 inches (71.1 cm) tall with the socle, 23 inches (58.4 cm) without.
Photographed in the Tapestry Room at Grimsthorpe Castle, 5 May 2015.
Grimsthorpe Castle, Ancestral seat of the Dukes of Ancaster.

Photographs at the bottom of the page are of the Gloucester Cathedral Plaster bust of Handel.

Photographing this bust at Grimsthorpe was an almost impossible task and I apologise for the poor quality. At some time in its past this bust, particularly the head and the right shoulder, had been smashed into several pieces and then reconstructed, as is obvious from these photographs. It has also been painted and stripped of paint at least twice, leaving evidence on the surface of the terracotta of layers of yellow and pinkish paint.

It is currently in a room where the shutters are permanently closed in order to protect the important tapestries from damage by light. Given the fragility of the terracotta and the fact that the bust has been attached to a heavy black marble socle with a large iron pin, it would have been impossible to move into the light without risk of further damage.

Consequently these photographs were taken without flash but with the aid of a portable fluorescent lead light. Not ideal circumstances but enough to give me the opportunity to show close up details of the surface and to make comparisons with the other busts of Handel by Roubiliac.
Contrary to reports from Malcolm Baker that it showed evidence that it had been cast in a piece mould I could find no evidence for this. The photographs here show clearly the joins where the terracotta pieces were glued back together, particularly high on the proper left cheek and at the top of the right arm. In a previous post I suggested that these might be firing cracks but I now firmly believe that this bust had been damaged in an accident.

Unfortunately there are no records of when this bust entered the collection at Grimsthorpe. It was only identified by John Mallet and Malcolm Baker in 1985.

It should be noted that there is no mole or wart on the left hand proper cheek clearly visible on the Foundling Hospital terracotta.

The hole at the back of the collar suggests that it had been made for a particular position, being tied back to a structure using this hole.

I am very grateful to Ray Biggs, Estate Manager of Grimsthorpe for allowing me to photograph this wonderful bust and to Peter Hone for acting as my assistant.

Newspaper clipping from Morning Post and Advertiser 22 June 1786.

"Three remarkably fine busts of Milton, Shakespeare and Handel exquisitely modelled by Roubiliac"
From the sale of the collection of John Stanley.

The catalogue for a sale by Christie's on 29 March 1805 'of ... Vases, Marbles, etc collected by a Man of Fashion during a recent visit to Rome and Naples', also included 'original models in Terra Cotta, by the celebrated Roubiliac, &c, &c.'

Lot, 117, was described as 'Tarquin and Lucretia, a singularly fine model in terra cotta, by the celebrated Roubiliac, undoubtedly, with a glass shade'. 

Lot 118 was described as An original model of the bust of Handel, by Roubiliac, in terra cotta', and it was sold for three Guineas. 

This probably refers to the Grimsthorpe terracotta.

Lot 119 was described as an original model of the bust of Alexander Pope by Roubiliac.  All were consigned by someone named 'Belcher', Possibly a misspelling of Belchier, the consignor therefore possibly being a relative of the deceased Dr John Belchier (d 1785), who moved in artistic circles, apparently having an acquaintance with both Pope and Handel, and whose own bust Roubiliac had modelled (model or cast, Royal College of Surgeons).  

This must refer to the Barber Institute Terracotta of Alexander Pope.

The annotations to the right of the lot descriptions, where the auctioneer has recorded the result of the auction, are incomplete, and do not disclose the name of the purchaser of the bust of Handel,  lot 119 (the terracotta bust of Pope) was acquired by one 'Rogers' for five Guineas, (the Poet Samuel Rogers).

Image result for Bust Belcher Roubiliac Royal College of Surgeons

Bust of Belcher
Louis Francois Roubiliac
Royal College of Surgeons.

I am grateful to Bruce Simpson Curator at the RCS for providing this photograph.

The Grimsthorpe, Sotheby's, above and Halle Haus, and Gloucester Cathedral busts for comparison.

In 2008  a plaster bust of Handel which is similar to the bust at Grimsthorpe Castle, but almost exactly the same as the Gloucester Cathedral plaster bust of Handel appeared on the website of the Stiftung Handel-Haus in Halle, Germany, which restated the attribution of the model to Roubiliac. 

It was made for Handel-Haus in 1997 by the gipsformerei (plaster workshop) of the Stiftung Preutgischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin, and that 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), who specialised in portraits of notable Germans, many of them composers, and whose works appear to have been issued in multiples produced by the plaster workshop of the Micheli Brothers in Berlin.


The Gloucester Cathedral Plaster bust of Handel by Roubiliac.

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