Born in the village of Wiesensteig in what is now part of southern Germany, Baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt created a series of portraits that were undervalued and rejected as unrefined works of art during the time of their creation 200 years ago. The collection, made up of faces carved in alabaster or cast in lead and tin alloy, was thought to be the workings of a “madman” as their expressive nature was unlike the standard designs of the time.
Wiesenteig always maintained a passion for the arts. At the age of 18, he moved to Vienna where he focused on refining his craft at the Academy of Fine Arts. During his early years, Messerschmidt’s commissioned portraits all depicted a style of stoic blankness, a classic pose similar to that often associated with the ancient rulers of Rome.
As time progressed, Wiesensteig began to show signs of mental strain. After being passed over twice for a position as a professor of sculptor, he sold his home and moved to the Slovak Republic where he lived alone and began to embrace the life of a hermit.
Amid his time alone, Messerschmidt began to develop a slight obsession with dramatic facial expressions. His designs are typically shown with tightly closed lips encompassing nothing more than the head and neck. This forces viewers to really focus on the carved details of the muscles and stretched skin. 200 years ago these heads were dismissed, however today Messerschmidt has become famous for his remarkable series of “Character Heads.” The modern creations have become a favorite amongst art lovers around the world.
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