The Fantastic Heads of FranzXaver Messerschmidt

November 15, 2006 to March 11, 2007

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The Fantastic Heads of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

To this day, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) is one of the most fascinating sculptors of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The Liebieghaus recently presented the first exhibition in Germany to focus on this artist, whose renown extends far beyond the boundaries of Europe.

On account of his outstanding talent, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt already enjoyed exceptional fame as a young sculptor. He worked with great success for Empress Maria Theresia, one of the most prominent rulers in European history, and was highly sought after as a portraitist for well-known scholars. Messerschmidt was interested in discussions on the theory of art as well as in scientific subjects, and is considered one of the most progressive artists of his time.

Fascinating by virtue of their grotesque, ambivalent and sometimes puzzling facial expressions, his busts reflect the newly formulated ideals of the art of the Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century. In this period, many scientific disciplines were preoccupied with the question as to the human being’s true nature and emotional makeup above and beyond courtly conventions. Physicians, philosophers and artists sought to gain insight into human feelings and impulses by reading studies as well as by observing the movements of the body, and particularly facial expressions. Messerschmidt’s character heads are thus instruments of knowledge and can be understood as artworks in the modern sense.

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