Friday 3 December 2010

Franz Messerschmidt sculptures

Watched BBC 4's new series presented by Art Historian Andrew Graham-Dixon "The Art of Germany" the other night. He covered the Gothic period in the first episode, and had a look at the remarkable sculptures of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783). We only saw a few of them on the programme so I thought I'd post a few more of them.

Messerschmidt was German-Austrian, and sculpted the heads in 1770-72. At this time he suffered from delusions and hallucinations, or a “confusion in the head” as his employer, the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts, described it. In 1774, Messerschmidt was expelled from the academy.

In 1781, Messerschmidt stated that the heads had been created as a record of his facial expressions on pinching himself to alleviate the pain of an illness he suffered, known now to be Crohn’s Disease. He intended to sculpt the 64 “canonical grimaces” of the human face using his own as a template.

Messerschmidt also claimed that he was physically tortured by “the Spirit of Proportion”, an ancient being who guarded the knowledge of harmony and who was angered by Messerschmidt’s disharmonius work. Personally, I think they're tremendous works, and wouldn't look at all out of place in an exhibition of contemporary work today.


  1. Thanks Poul, for posting these wonderful heads. I saw them several years ago at Tate Modern - at least some of them. I saw Andrew Graham Dixon's piece so it was good that a friend flagged your post on facebook. She started a caption competition in the Sturm und Drang style - no, seriously!

  2. George - I'd like to see that!

  3. I came upon your site quite by accident( i was looking for paintings by Hopper) I am really impressed with your notes on the self portraits and i am going to share your site with my classes.(if you don't mind) I teach Highschool art and self portraits are a major part of what we do. One major emphasis I stress is that the portrait is observational but not necessarily "photographic". The posts on Hockney, Munch and Warhol being good examples. Thanks

  4. Hi! i really like your blog, It's a great work to recollect this information. ¿Do you know any famous facial pain/ suffering expression, artwork or artist? I

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