The Stone-Encased Pain of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) was German-Austrian painter and sculptor most known for his series of canonical grimaces sculptures.

Messerschmidt’s character heads were inspired by the mysterious condition that forced the artist to leave the Vienna Academy of Arts. The undiagnosed digestive illness that caused Messerschmidt so much pain is today believed to have been Crohn’s disease. At one point, he came up with a series of pinches he would apply to his right lower rib. in order to take his mind off the pain.

Looking in the mirror while he was applying his pinches, and seeing his facial expressions, Messerschmidt decided to immortalize his pain in a series of sculptures. Thus, in 1781 Franz Xaver Messerschmidt started working on his famous character heads, using himself as a model.

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