Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) first made his mark in...

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) first made his mark in Vienna, where he enjoyed a distinguished career, including several royal commissions and a faculty post at the prestigious Academy of Fine Art. Working in the neoclassical style, he produced some of the most important sculptures of the Eighteenth Century. In the early 1770s, there was a rupture in Messerschmidt’s life, to which those around him reacted with rejection. The artist was thought to have developed psychological problems, including hallucinations and paranoia. He lost his position at the university and was forced to sell most of his possessions. Messerschmidt left Vienna in 1775, eventually settling in the Hungarian city of Pressburg (today, Bratislava) where he lived for the rest of his life. Around this time, Messerschmidt began to devote himself to the creation of his so-called “character heads,” the body of work for which he would become best known. To produce these works, the artist would look into the mirror, pinching his body and contorting his face. He then rendered, with great precision, his distorted expressions. The artist said that he created these works as a way to protect himself from evil spirits who tortured him. He produced 49 of these astonishing works before he died in 1783.



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