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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): M.3-1922

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 3 (case on right as facing the door into Gallery 4)


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)


Sculptor: Roubiliac, Louis François




Terracotta, modelled in the round. The composer is seated on a plinth, plucking the strings of a lyre. He is shown in undress, wearing a night-cap and gown, and slippers, one of which has fallen off and is under his foot. A boy 'recording angel' sits at his feet taking down the notes.


History note: Thomas Hudson by 1751); sold in his sale, 26th February 1785, lot 37; purchased by Nathaniel Smith and sold by him to his ma;ster, Joseph Nollekens; sold in his sale, 3rd July, 1823, lot 60 (as by 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 (1876-1964), Northwick, by whom given to the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Legal notes

Given by Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 36.2 cm
Height: 47.2 cm
Width: 26.9 cm

Place(s) associated

  • London ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (1922-12-07) by Spencer Churchill, E. G., Captain


18th Century, second quarter#
George II
Production date: before AD 1738


In depicting Handel in the act of composing, Roubiliac encourages us to imagine the the sound of the music being played. Eyes half-shut, the composer leans towards his lyre (a small stringed instrument), concentrating on the notes produced as he plucks the strings. At his feet, his amanuensis (a naked putto) listens carefully, scribbling down the score as Handel plays. The music is probably for Alexander’s Feast, composed in 1736, in which lute and oboe feature (as shown in the sculpture). On the unveiling of the marble statue in April 1738, visitors were astounded by its realism, and would no doubt have enjoyed being able to compare the sculpture with the real man, as Handel regularly frequented the Gardens.

This terracotta was the model for Roubiliac’s first major work after settling in London in c.1730: a life-size statue in Carrara marble of the famous composer, Handel made for display in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum). Life-size marble statues were the most expensive type of portrait sculpture, traditionally reserved for monarchs and military heroes and normally commissioned for prominent public spaces. Sitters were generally shown standing and dressed in formal attire. The fact that Handel was a German musician, portrayed in casual attire in a relaxed pose, made this informal image a radical departure from accepted convention.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted


  • Sculpture UK


  • Sensual Virtual

Materials used in production

All or most of the surface appears to be united by a thin pinkish-buff terracotta-coloured wash over a whitish gesso? ground; the latter revealed in thinner areas of wash (e.g. the crease above the PR thigh of the putto) and by minor damage (e.g. chip from toe of Handel's PL slipper). Jo Dillon 2016-08-24 Terracotta

Techniques used in production

Hand-modelling : Terracotta hand-modelled, and fired

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.3-1922
Primary reference Number: 29736
External ID: CAM_CCF_M_3_1922
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 18 December 2023 Last processed: Monday 18 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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