Charles Jennens

The man behind Handel's 'Messiah'

Wednesday 21 November 2012 - 14 April 2013

In a major new exhibition the Handel House Museum explores the life, work and character of Handel’s great collaborator Charles Jennens.

An enigmatic character, Jennens had an enormous influence on Handel’s life and work. As librettist for the oratorios Saul and Belshazzar, he provided the composer with words that inspired some of his most challenging and exciting music. His carefully chosen scripture selection for Messiah was to inspire Handel to even greater creative heights, and together these two men created one of the greatest musical works of all time.

The exhibition will examine this relationship in detail, alongside other elements of Jennens’s life as a great landowner; the builder of a fine country house with extensive grounds; a major art collector; a Christian philanthropist; a devout defender of revealed religion; an encourager of other authors and composers; a loyal friend; and a forward-looking editor of Shakespeare.

Bringing together exhibits from throughout the UK and beyond, for the first time this landmark exhibition will unite all known oil portraits of Jennens to stand beside Handel House’s own magnificent portrait by Thomas Hudson.

The exhibition's curator is Dr Ruth Smith, author of Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought (CUP), who has made a particular study of the life and work of Charles Jennens.

See the film about Charles Jennens featuring curator Ruth Smith, conductor Paul McCreesh and singer Roderick Williams.

For a detailed biography of Charles Jennens please see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry here.

Exhibition Book

An accompanying illustrated book by Dr Ruth Smith is available to buy at the museum shop or online via and Culture Label priced at £8.50.


Special events in March and April 2013 to complement the exhibition