Earlier this month, the Met acquired its first work by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783), the Austrian sculptor best known for his series of character heads, which are physiognomic and psychological studies.
Executed in lead, tin alloys, or alabaster, these studies were a private obsession of the sculptor that also reflect a long artistic tradition of the representation of expression as well as current scientific observations on mental states. "In a pre-Freudian world, he serializes different states of mind," said Ian Wardropper, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Chairman of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, in a recent interview with The New York Times. Most of the 52 heads surviving from 69 inventoried at the artist's death are in public collections in Vienna. The bust acquired by the Met—called A Hypocrite and Slanderer (after 1770)—is prescient in its rendering of a disturbing, even psychotic personality, pointing the way to a modern sensibility. This powerful work, which is now on view in the Museum's Florence Gould Galleries, brings a formidable example of 18th-century Austrian art into the collection.
The transcript is available in Met Media.