Bizarre Sculptures by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt From the 18th Century – Design You Trust

Bizarre Sculptures by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt From the 18th Century

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, an eighteenth-century German sculptor active in Austria, is best known for his series of dramatic “character heads.” The metal and stone busts are often disturbing in their extreme expressions. They have long prompted critics and scholars to speculate that the artist made them in reaction to an undiagnosed mental illness.


Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) was born in the village of Wiesensteig, in what is now southern Germany. He learned his trade from two uncles, a court sculptor in Munich, and an artist based in Graz, Austria. Later, Messerschmidt attended the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts and assisted at a foundry. His spectacular ability to work in stone and metal soon brought him portrait commissions from imperial and aristocratic clients. Made over the course of a decade, those early works reflect the prevailing late Baroque-Rococo sensibility, which emphasized the decorative.

Between 1760 and 1765, Messerschmidt traveled to Rome, Paris, and London. Seeing the work of other sculptors inspired him to shift toward Neoclassicism––a more spare and refined style. At this time, he began to emphasize his sitters’ features and character. In 1769, Messerschmidt taught at the Viennese Academy and established his own workshop. Those outward signs of success were short-lived, as colleagues and friends observed changes in his behavior. After failing to gain a professorship of sculpture position at the academy, Messerschmidt left Vienna and returned to Wiesensteig.

Messerschmidt likely began his “character heads” around 1770, as his mental health apparently deteriorated. He produced the life-sized busts rapidly, 69 within a 13-year period. He may have intended them as physiognomic studies, perhaps inspired by experiments enacted by his friend, the controversial physician Franz Anton Mesmer. Messerschmidt probably also knew of Johann Caspar Lavater, who popularized “physiognomy”––the notion that human character is discernible by a person’s physical appearance.

Collectively, Messerschmidt’s “character heads” display a range of emotions. Although they are not self-portraits, many resemble the artist. In any case, he never intended to exhibit or sell them. After a short stay with family members in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia), he died alone and in relative poverty.

If you want more awesome content, subscribe to 'Oh, Design You Trust,' our brand new Facebook page! Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

More Inspiring Stories

Intricately Crafted Marine Life Specimens Suspended in Glass
Quick Guide To Identifying Ford Pickups From 1948 To 1996
19 Giant Flower Sculptures Honour Van Gogh At World’s Largest Flower Parade In The Netherlands
Superb Giant Monkey-King-Shaped Transformer Statue Displayed In Chinese City Of Qingdao
Stunning Jaguar F-Pace Camouflage
Loewe's Totoro Capsule Collection Is as Magical as the Film
Levitating Shoes Baffle People On The Streets Of London
Big-Jacket Memes Are Coming To An Instagram Near You
Created From The Recycled Tire Tubes, The Pangolin By Cyclus Takes Backpacks To Another Level
Using An ‘Alien’ Facehugger As A Protective Face Mask
When Architecture Meets Nature: Fantastic Giant Wooden Objects Of Henrique Oliveira
An Ukrainian Artist Creates Handmade Blown Glass Creatures
104-Year-Old Grandma Yarn-Bombs Her Town
British Designer Paul Cocksedge Creates Awesome Curved Large-Scale Installation
Monochrome Bodypainting Project “Exoskeleton”: Brilliantly Textured Body Paintings Turn The Human Form Into A Walking Work Of Art
Assistant Professor Of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Creates Amazing Precise Metallic Replicas Of Ancient Fossils And Cells
'Game Of Thrones' and 'League Of Legends 'Inspired Jewelry Made Out Of Scrap Metal
Japanese Artist Creates Charming Balloon Sculptures
The Albert Clock Wants Your Complete Attention And Your Math Skills
Banksy Designs New Souvenirs For Hotel With The ‘Worst View In The World’
Norwegian Artist Damselfrau Creates Otherworldly Masks From Recycled Materials
Bizarre Pictures Of The Beatles Cover Session For the Album “Yesterday And Today” In 1966
Mastering the Craft of Three-Dimensional Emotive Metaphors by Troy Coulterman
Artist Jocelyn Teo Creates A Tiny Food You Can't Eat