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Franz Xaver

born in XX century

Biography and information

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (February 6, 1736, Wiesensteig - August 19, 1783, Presburg, now Bratislava) - Austrian sculptor.

Features of the work of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt: the sculptor worked in a baroque manner typical of his time, adding elements of classicism to his arsenal somewhat later. He became famous for his busts, which became available to the general public only after the death of the master - the so-called “Characteristic heads” depicting faces distorted by various feelings.

Famous works of the sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt: “Characteristic Heads” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Originally from a hereditary family of sculptors, Franz Messerschmidt grew up in the home of his maternal uncle, the sculptor Johann Baptist Straub, who taught the young nephew the basics of his craft. After moving from Munich to Graz, young Franz continued his studies with another uncle sculptor, Philipp Jacob Straub, and in 1755 entered the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where Jacob Schletterer became his mentor.

The young man was definitely talented and did not shame the honor of the family: after graduating from the Academy, its director, Martin Van Meitens, recommended the young sculptor to work in the Habsburg court. For the imperial family Messerschmidt created bronze busts, bas-reliefs, monumental statues of the royal couple, commissioned by Maria Theresa (now exhibited in Lower Belvedere, Vienna). He also did works on religious subjects, many of his statues, commissioned by the Princess of Savoy, were preserved.

In 1765 Messerschmidt went to Rome to expand the horizons of practical experience. Four years later, the baroque period of his work ended, giving way to neoclassicism. His work, created in academic traditions, dates back to this time - a bust of the “wonderful doctor” Franz Anton Mesmer, who practices magnetotherapy, with whom Messerschmidt was a neighbor in Vienna and, in all likelihood, was friends.

Messerschmidt left the brightest mark in the history of art, creating a series of so-called "characteristic heads", or "heads of characters." He began work on them around 1770-72, and, according to historians, this was due to some paranoid ideas and hallucinations, from which the sculptor began to suffer during this period. His health condition was so depressing that it became noticeable from the outside. In 1774, when Messerschmidt applied for the recently vacated senior professor at the Vienna Academy, where he taught since 1769, he was not only denied, but also asked to resign due to "confusion in his head."

After leaving Vienna, the master finally settled in the house of his brother Johann Adam, in Pressburg (now Bratislava). He made portrait medallions and busts for middle-class clients, and also worked in a local court. Two years later, he bought his own house, where he lived until the end of his days, and where he created his famous "characteristic heads." According to a contemporary, journalist and critic Friedrich Nikolai, who visited Messerschmidt in 1881, the sculptor watched himself in the mirror, pinching himself on his right lower rib. His plans included "presenting 64" canonical grimaces "of a human face, using himself as a template." Also, according to Nikolai, Messerschmidt admired the writings of Hermes Trismegistus and his postulates of "general equilibrium." Messerschmidt claimed that his “heads of characters” aroused the wrath of the “Spirit of Proportion,” an ancient being who guarded the knowledge of the “golden section”. The spirit “visited him at night and made him suffer humiliating torture”, which the sculptor displayed in his works.

According to another version, Messerschmidt suffered from Crohn's disease, drowning his torment with painful tweaks, and his own grimaces of pain, which he observed in the mirror, encouraged him to create unusual works. The master lived only 47 years; after his death, 69 busts were found in his workshop, including 50 "characteristic heads" - 34, cast from metal, and 16 alabaster. It was the “characteristic heads” that turned out to be, in the end, the most remarkable part of the creative heritage of Franz Messerschmidt. In 2005, one of them was purchased for the Louvre collection at Sotheby's New York auction for a record amount of more than $ 4.8 million.
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  • Artworks in 2 selections
  • Art forms
    Painting, Sculpture