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George Frideric Handel, sculpture made by Roubiliac

Born in Lyon, Roubiliac trained as a sculptor in Dresden with Balthasar Permoser and worked for Nicholas Coustou in Paris before moving to London c.1730. He appears to have worked for Thomas Carter and Henry Cheere, and by 1738 had his own workshop in St Martin's Lane. This highly detailed terracotta was the model for his first major work, a marble statue of the composer Handel (1685-1759) commissioned by Jonathan Tyers, the proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens. On its installation there in April 1738, visitors to the Gardens were astounded by the realism of the statue, and it established Roubiliac's reputation as one of England's foremost sculptors. Public statues of living persons other than monarchs were rare in England, and the informality of Handel's attire and pose were strikingly different from male funerary effigies. The guide to the Gardens in 1752 described the statue of Handel as Apollo, but some visitors, such as the Hanoverian Count von Kielmanseg in 1760 identified it as Orpheus, who charmed the wild beasts by playing Apollo's lyre to them. By 1751 the terracotta was owned by Roubiliac's close friend, the painter Thomas Hudson, an indication of the growing appreciation of models as expressions of a sculptor's genius.