Poster of the Day -Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, an eighteenth-century German sculptor active in Austria, is best known for his series of dramatic “character heads.” The metal and stone busts are often disturbing in their extreme expressions. They have long prompted critics and scholars to speculate that the artist made them in reaction to an undiagnosed mental illness.
Messerschmidt likely began his “character heads” around 1770, as his mental health apparently deteriorated. He produced the life-sized busts rapidly, 69 within a 13-year period. He may have intended them as physiognomic studies, perhaps inspired by experiments enacted by his friend, the controversial physician Franz Anton Mesmer. Messerschmidt probably also knew of Johann Caspar Lavater, who popularized “physiognomy”–the notion that human character is discernable by a person’s physical appearance.
Collectively, Messerschmidt’s “character heads” display a range of emotions. Although they are not self-portraits, many resemble the artist. In any case, he never intended to exhibit or sell them. After a short stay with family members in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia), he died alone and in relative poverty.

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