© Handel House Collections Trust
Exhibition Preview: Charles Jennens: The man Behind Messiah, Handel House Museum, London, until April 14 2013On one oracular on bygone English poetry, Charles Jennens is entertainingly described as a writer who was “ridiculously fond of show and pomp” from an early age, considering would-be Shakespeare commentators “mere twaddling antiquaries”.
His own editions of Shakespeare works – including Hamlet and Othello – drew sneers from a rival editor, George Steevens, whose subsequent slurs still amount to an assassination of Jennens’ character.
But whatever anyone said about this colourful arts patron, he’ll still go down as a key figure in the creation of Handel’s masterful Messiah, for which he is variously thought to have compiled the text of the libretto and suggested the drift of the oratorio.
That was the peak of a productive partnership with the composer, objectified in a score of the oratorio Saul which is autographed by the musical demigod here. In one of a series of letters, Handel even asks Jennens to be his temporary muse.
And the first exhibition to be devoted to the philanthropist pulls off the task of uniting every known portrait of the man, including a notable Thomas Hudson portrait already held by the museum and a depiction by Mason Chamberlin, one of the founder members of the Royal Academy.
“Jennens remains utterly unknown to the wider public,” rues Sarah Bardwell, the director of the museum.
“But in recent years there have been signs of his reputation reviving among scholars, and we hope to continue this.
“Jennens was a gifted and trusted collaborator, whose influence deserves recognition. A neat illustration of his hidden influence is the fact that in the authoritative Arden edition of Hamlet he is mentioned more than 30 times in footnotes.
“We’re hoping to save Jennens from being forever a footnote.”
A painting of Jacobson Gopsall Hall, on the 736-acre Leicestershire estate which the devout Protestant inherited from his father and filled with a huge picture collection and library, is certain to elicit envy.
Researchers think he might have been the owner of the first piano in England, but their investigations aren’t helped by his desire to remain private, leaving many of his creations anonymous or uncredited.
He was never paid by Hamlet, finding reward in the reflections of his feelings on religion, society and royalty expressed in his accomplice’s librettos.
- Open 10am-6pm (8pm Thursday, 12pm-6pm Sunday and January 1, closed Monday and December 25-27, December 31). Admission £2-£6, free for under-5s, free for under-16s Saturday and Sunday. Follow the museum on Twitter @HandelHouse.
© National Portrait Gallery, London
© The Handel House Collections Trust
© HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012
© Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum
© Private Collection