Tuesday 30 June 2015

The so called Handel Life Mask

Photographic Comparisons of the so called Life Mask with other versions of the Plaster Busts of Handel and some notes pertaining.

This blog entry edited and updated 6 Oct 2020.

The earliest mention I can find of a life (or death mask) appeared in the weekly magazine The Mirror of 19 July 1834. 

Much has been made of this reference and other versions of the "life masks", particularly by David Wilson in the British Arts Journal, Vol. X no. 1; David Coke in the Sculpture Journal, Vol.16.2; and at the Ruth Rendall unveiling at the Handel House at 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, London in 2009 and then in subsequent Handel House publications.

My own belief is that none of these authors have had the opportunity to inspect the other versions of the Roubiliac Handel busts (the Grimsthorpe terracotta or the Gloucester Cathedral plaster) at close quarters and to make comparisons and that the so called "Life mask" is a cast of a version of the bareheaded and late generation and much over painted Roubiliac plaster bust of Handel.

They also appear to have been unaware of the marble version of this bust (by Heaven Inspired) sold by Sotheby's Lot 179, 9 July 2015.

see - http://bathartandarchitecture.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-marble-bust-of-handel-by-heaven.html


It is a shame that these authors have made assertions which havn't been verified and that the facts have become skewed and then repeated by a series of "Chinese whispers".

Given that Malcolm Baker must have been aware of the marble version of this bust in an article by David Wilson, ''By Heaven Inspired': A marble bust of Handel by Roubiliac rediscovered', The British Art Journal, vol. X, no. 1, 2009, pp. 14-29. it is a shame that no mention of it appeared in his work "The Marble Index" published in 2014.

 The three quarter life size plaster bust of Handel now with the Handel Haus Museum in Halle, Germany on the left compared with a plaster mask.

For much more on this recently discovered and unpublished plaster bust of Handel see -


For a slightly different version of this plaster bust of this bust but showing the waistcoat embroidered and a turned socle with eared support ( much used by Shout of Holorn see - 


The illustration of the mask on the cover of the Sculpture Journal above was reproduced the wrong way around.


Another comparison photograph of the three quarter life size bust at Halle on the right with  another of the so called life masks. 

The photograph above on the left is of the so called life mask of Handel as used in the Exhibition catalogue Handel, A Celebration of his life and Times, 1685 - 1759, ed. Jacob Simon. NPG, 1986.


Photograph of the so called life mask of Handel taken at the Handel House Museum in London in 2009.

As above.

Above the Gloucester Cathedral Plaster bust of Handel, on the left compared with the so called life mask. This to me is obvious proof that the "life mask" has been taken from a much over painted plaster cast of the Roubiliac bust of Handel. It is plain to see that the "life mask" has lost the definition that is easily discernable on the Gloucester Cathedral Plaster.

Comparison of the eyes is instructive.

It should also be noted that the prominent mole on his right hand cheek (proper) clearly visible in the Foundling Museum terracotta and the 1738 engraving by Houbraken is missing!
If it were a life mask the eyes hair and eyebrows would have to have been reworked after a mould was taken of the sitters face
Were it really a life mask, even with the obvious over painting, which this mask has undergone, the detailing of the facial features would be much clearer. The detail of the hair on these two faces is obviously very close as are the eyes and eyebrows.
There would also be deterioration of the plaster piece mould after each pull. It is difficult to be sure how many times a piece mould could be used - probably less than twenty.
Since the first mention of any life or death mask was in the Mirror of 19 July 1834 it is my belief that this mask was produced deliberately to deceive the gullible with the intention of parting them with their money - this seems to have worked up until now, that is if anybody actually reads this.
I would welcome any comments.

George Frederick Handel
Showing the mole on his right proper cheek - this is also visible on the Foundling Hospital terRoubiliac terracotta of Handel.

Line Engraving

by Jacobus Houbraken, 

after Hubert-François Gravelot (né Bourguignon)


35.25 x 22.22 cms

Image above courtesey National Galleries of Scotland


Above The Handel House Mask compared with the Grimsthorpe terracotta. 
Handel House Mask 

Another Photograph of the Handel House Mask.


Photograph from the National Portrait Gallery of the so called life mask of Handel as used in the Exhibition catalogue Handel, A Celebration of his life and Times, 1685 -1759, ed. Jacob Simon. NPG, 1986.


My favourite photograph of a so called life mask (with David Coke from the Times 26 June 1992).


  The David Coke life mask compared with the Gloucester Cathedral.


For a detailed look at the Gloucester Cathdral plaster bust of Handel see my blog post - 


For an in depth look at the Roubiliac terracotta of Handel at Grimsthorpe see -


For a set of photographs at Getty images of the so called life mask at the Handel House Museum, Brook Street, London with a laughable pitch to make one purchase these expensive photographs see -


For the marble version of these busts see -


Possibly this marble bust is 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;

Prior to its sale at Christie's in 1900, the present bust was recorded in Morrison's collection in the 1890 Handel entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, there described as being by Roubiliac; the attribution is likely to have been given by the then Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sir George Scharf, who was very familiar with Roubiliac's work (info from Sotheby's catalogue.

Morrison sale, Christie's London, 10 February 1900, lot 107;

Acquired by S. T. Gooden (later,  Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox) London, on commission for one Charles Eley, probably the Chairman of Eley Brothers, the well-known manufacturer of firearms cartridges.

Early 21st Century -rediscovered in Belgium by a London dealer.

The Grimsthorpe bust from their website.


The Roubiliac Busts of Handel - the so called life mask type.

Grimsthorpe - Morrison/ Sotheby's
Handl Haus, Halle - Gloucester Cathedral


Sunday 28 June 2015

Plaster Cast of the Head from the Handel Monument in Westminster Abbey and the Modellos for the Monument

The Plaster cast of the head of Handel from the Monument by Roubiliac in Westminster Abbey.

Cast by D. Brucciani. Mid - late 19th Century, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The current authorities at Westminster Abbey do not allow photography in the Cathedral Church.
In their need to monetise their holdings - photographs of the sculpture can be purchased from them.

This of course means that they are expensive and old fashioned.

They would do well to read their bibles. Matthew 21: 12 - 17. etc etc.

Height 52 cms.
Given to the Fitzwilliam in 1906

Below is another Brucciani cast of the same subject with rather unsympathetic magnolia repaint, at the Royal Academy of Music - there is another in the British Library.

Another version of the Westminster Abbey Head of Handel by Brucciani at the Royal Academy of Music.

These busts appear to have been taken directly from the Handel Monument in Westminster Abbey and whilst obviously related to the Roubiliac portrait busts of Handel it is also very close to the head of the Vauxhall Statue of 1738 now in the V and A.

I believe that all of the Roubiliac sculptures of Handel were originally derived from sittings - or a life mask taken in about 1736 /77 before the creation of the Vauxhall statue and Royal Collection marble and the terracotta versions of the bust with the hat of 1737/8.

Given the changes in his appearance after this time when he put on a great deal of weight, which does not show in any of these sculptural portraits I believe that Roubiliac used an earlier bust or busts in order to create the monument in Westminster Abbey.

also for company history and much more of interest on plaster casts in the 19th century see -

The Westminster Abbey Handel Monument by Roubiliac.


Model for the Westminster Abbey Monument by Roubiliac in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

98 cms tall.

Given by James Wyatt to Oxford University in 1848.

Slightly higher resolution photograph of the Ashmolean terracotta modello for the Handel monument by Roubiliac. 


Black and White photograph of the modello at the Foundling Hospital Museum noted to have been  recently discovered in Bath, in Early Georgian Portraits by Kerslake. NPG. 1977.

 Photographs of the Modello taken in very poor light at the Foundling Hospital Museum.
12 - 15" tall approximately.

It is possible that there were plaster copies made of the Roubiliac model for the monument although none have come to light so far. John Flaxman senior, father of the more famous sculptor offered casts from the original mould of the monument in The Gazetteer and London Advertiser of 13 January 1764. probably lot 61 on the 2nd day of the sale of the contents of the Roubiliac Studio in St Martins Lane, 13 May 1762.

John Flaxman I (1726 -1803) at New Street Covent Garden from 1763, King Street, Covent Garden from 1773 -76, In 1776 he moved 420 The Strand (opposite Durham Yard) In 1792 he bought several moulds formerly belonging to John Cheere, He is believed to have been employed by both Scheemakers and Roubiliac. (see Dict. of Sculptors in Britain....).

 Above - snippet from The Gazetteer and London Advertiser of 13 January 1764.

Vauxhall Statue of Handel and the Sotheby Bust

Vauxhall Statue at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Sotheby's bust of Handel for Comparison.

Comparison Photographs of the Gloucester Cathedral Plaster and the Sotheby's Marble busts of Handel.

Comparison Photographs of the Gloucester Cathedral Plaster and the Sotheby's Marble busts of Handel.

Also illustrated: The Grimsthorpe Terracotta, the Haendl Haus Plaster and the Royal Collection MarbleBusts.

This Post updated 20 October 2020.


Gloucester Cathedral Plaster - Sotheby's / Morrison marble bust.




Grimsthorpe Terracotta - Sotheby's Marble

Handel Haus Museum (probably a Micheli cast or later copyof the Micheli Bust  - Gloucester Cathedral


The Royal Collection Marble Bust of Handel.

71.0 x 58.0 x 26.0 cm (whole object).

The socle is unlikely to be original unless this bust is a copy - it appears that some of the busts in the Royal Collection had new turned socles to replace the originals

Handel's most important patron was George III, who placed this bust of his favourite composer in a position of honour in Buckingham House, on top of the organ in Queen Charlotte’s Breakfast Room.


Possibly acquired by George III ????

Photograph Courtesey the Royal Collection website.


The Royal Collection Marble Bust of Handel
Barehead version - 

The bust with soft hat which has a firmer provenance is not illustrated here

More recent photographs of The Grimsthorpe Castle Terracotta Bust of Handel from their website


The Aurelio Micheli Plaster Bust of Handel c. 1870.

Height 72 cms.

Gipsformerei (Plaster Workshop), Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Copies available to order priced at a very (un)reasonable 3216.81 euros

It is a slightly truncated version of the Grimsthorpe terracotta 
- it has been slightly shortened at the bottom.

Image courtesey:


This was the master from which the bust at the Handel Haus Museum in Halle Germany was cast from (see above). 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 a 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.


Comparison Photographs of the Sotheby's Marble and the Grimsthorpe Terracotta Busts of Handel by Louis Francois Roubiliac.

Photographs of the Sotheby's Marble Bust and the Grimsthorpe Castle Terracotta Busts of Handel 
All by Roubiliac for Comparison.

Malcolm Baker had problems with this bust but I can find no reason to doubt the authorship of the Sotheby's bust.

My blog entries on the subject should be enough to convince any doubters!

Above The Grimsthorpe Terracotta, and the Sotheby's Marble,
Below the Handel Haus Plaster and The Gloucester Cathedral Plaster.

Saturday 27 June 2015

The Royal Collection Handel Bust compared with the other versions.

The Royal Collection Marble bust of Handel and its Variations.
by Louis Francois Roubiliac.

The Foundling Museum Plaster, The Huntington Library Plaster above,
The Foundling Hospital Terracotta, the Royal Collection Marble.

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.