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The Secret Life of Handel
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The Secret Life of Handel

By Melissa Lesnie on Dec 29, 2013

From surly Saxon porker to undercover spy, the mysterious life of Handel unravelled.

One of the most famous portraits of George Frideric Handel is an image the composer wouldn’t have wanted hanging in any museum.

The Charming Brute (also known as The Harmonious Boar) of 1733 depicts him as a hog, snout protruding from under his wig, a corpulent mass barely supported by a barrel of wine as he plays a pipe organ festooned with food. What does it say about him that this scathing caricature was created by one of his closest friends?

The story goes that the artist Joseph Goupy was invited to sup with the composer, but caught Handel secretly guzzling much finer fare than what he had offered his guest earlier that evening. After serving up revenge in the form of this unflattering engraving, Goupy was no longer welcome at 25 Brook Street, and the two men never reconciled. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, but perhaps he was saying more about the voracious maestro than he realised when he inscribed just four words on the banner at Handel’s feet: “I am myself alone.”


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