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Character Heads: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s Twisted Sculptures From The Age of Reason

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“Anything great in this world has come from neurotics” – Marcel Proust

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, An intentional Wag, c. 1770 Gypsum Alabaster Height 42 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, An intentional Wag, c. 1770
Gypsum Alabaster
Height 42 cm

 

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt made his Character Heads in the 1700s. The artist, so the story goes, suffered from hallucinations and paranoia. To create his sculptures, Messerschmidt would look in the mirror, pinch his body, grimace and gurn. These busts, reminiscent of hyperreal 4D ultrasounds and death masks, would protect him from evil spirits who tortured him.

In all he made 69 heads. He sold none.

 

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Kuriositas:

Messerschmidt grew up in the household of his Munich based Uncle, Johann Straub, who was also a sculptor and who became the young Messerschmidt’s first master and artistic mentor. In 1755 he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and like any young artist of the time sought out patronage from the high and mighty of his times. He worked at the imperial arms collection and created representations of the then imperial couple as well as religious works.

 

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, An Arch-Rascal, c. 1770 Tin-lead alloy Height 38,5 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, An Arch-Rascal, c. 1770
Tin-lead alloy
Height 38,5 cm

 

NYTimes:

At 18 he was at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he caught the eye of its director, Martin van Meytens, who was also official painter to the Habsburg court. Thanks to van Meytens’s advocacy, the brilliant young sculptor soon had commissions for imperial portraits, including two of the Empress Maria Theresa.

Wanting further experience, he traveled to Rome to immerse himself in antiquities, paying particular attention to Roman Republican portraiture. After this, like most enterprising Enlightenment artists, he shifted his style from a Baroque-Rococo mélange to Neo-Classicism…

Messerschmidt was hired to teach at the academy, with the understanding that he would inherit the position of professor of sculpture once a senior colleague had retired. A bright future seemed assured.

Then everything went awry, as damaging rumors circulated that he was mentally unbalanced… Commissions dried up. When the academy professorship became available, it went to someone else. In anger he rejected the compensatory offering of a pension and left Vienna for good.

After some wandering he ended up not far from Vienna in 1777 in the city now called Bratislava, where he crashed with a younger brother, then found a home and studio of his own. In Vienna he had already begun producing his slightly larger-than-life and entirely self-commissioned “character heads.”

 

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Hanged Man, c. 1770 Gypsum Alabaster Height 38 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Hanged Man, c. 1770
Gypsum Alabaster
Height 38 cm

 

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt The Artist as He Imagined Himself Laughing 1777-81 tin cast

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
The Artist as He Imagined Himself Laughing
1777-81
tin cast

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The Beaked

The Beaked

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Matthias Rudolph Toma (1792-1869), Messerschmidt's "character heads" (1839, lithograph on paper), Austrian National Library, Vienna.

Matthias Rudolph Toma (1792-1869), Messerschmidt’s “character heads” (1839, lithograph on paper), Austrian National Library, Vienna.

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Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Second Beak Head, c. 1770 Gypsumalabaster Height 43 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Second Beak Head, c. 1770
Gypsumalabaster
Height 43 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, An Old Cheerful Smiler, c. 1770 Wood with wax edition Height 36 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, An Old Cheerful Smiler, c. 1770
Wood with wax edition
Height 36 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Mischievous Wag, c. 1770 Gypsumalabaster Height 34 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Mischievous Wag, c. 1770
Gypsumalabaster
Height 34 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Strong Worker, c. 1770

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Strong Worker, c. 1770

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Haggard Old Man with Aching Eyes, c. 1770 Gypsum Alabaster Height 44,5 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Haggard Old Man with Aching Eyes, c. 1770
Gypsum Alabaster
Height 44,5 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, The Simpleton, c. 1770 Gypsumalabaster Height 41 cm

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, The Simpleton, c. 1770
Gypsumalabaster
Height 41 cm

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A Strong Man 1771-83 tin-lead cast

A Strong Man 1771-83 tin-lead cast

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt Just Rescued from Drowning 1771-83 alabaster

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt Just Rescued from Drowning 1771-83 alabaster

Childish Weeping

Childish Weeping

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The Yawning.

The Yawning.

A Hypocrite and Slanderer by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Tin alloy, 1770-1783

A Hypocrite and Slanderer by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Tin alloy, 1770-1783

 

Via: Belvedere