Messerschmidt Heads, Extreme Facial Expressions, Getty Museum

Posted by Nina Christensen on

Here in Los Angeles, the Getty Museum is having an art show through mid-October 2012 which surveys the Character Heads (1770-1783) created by F.X. Messerschmidt. We learned about Messerschmidt's studies of human facial expressions when we added four bust reproductions to our collection: Ultimate Simpleton, Vexed Man, Yawner Man, and Strong Man.


Reproductions of Messerschmidt Portrait Heads are available for purchase at Parastone Museum Collection.

From the Getty's description of the show, "The exhibition demonstrates how Messerschmidt's intriguing heads are linked to the 18th and 19th centuries' fascination with expression and the "passions," as well as with the pseudosciences of physiognomy and pathognomy."

We enjoy Messerschmidt's depiction of the extreme looks and exaggerations of the human face. Sculpted in the round, they certainly evoke comments from visitors to our gift store!

If you're visiting LA, we hope you'll take a little time to stop by the Getty Museum and see their show!


From the Getty Museum Website about the show:

Messerschmidt created the Character Heads between 1770 and his death in 1783. Their distracting, if amusing, titles—such as A Hypocrite and a Slanderer and The Difficult Secret—were not his invention. Instead, they were assigned after 49 heads were exhibited at the Citizen's Hospital in Vienna in 1793.

The titles, with descriptive text, were printed in the exhibition catalogue The Peculiar Life History of F. X. Messerschmidt, Royal and Imperial Sculpture Teacher (published anonymously in 1794), the same year that they were first referred to as "Character Heads" in a Viennese newspaper. Subsequently, they were often displayed as curiosities at the Prater, an amusement park in Vienna, and wax and plaster copies were available for purchase.

Messerschmidt called the works Kopfstücke (head pieces), and they were to represent the full range of human expressions, which he reckoned to be 64. They may also have functioned as apotropaic objects, designed to protect him against menacing spirits—specifically, the "Spirit of Proportion"—that "so frightened and plagued him at night."

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