One Artist, Many Faces

"The artist hoped to ward away spirits by capturing them in these heads."—Wolfram Koeppe, curator

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (German, 1736–1783). A Hypocrite and a Slanderer, ca. 1770–83. Tin alloy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, and Lila Acheson Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gifts, 2010 (2010.24). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Wolfram Koeppe: Messerschmidt made a whole series of these heads after a very, very successful career being the imperial court's sculptor in Vienna. He established a small studio and experimented with these facial expressions. And we know from some contemporaries that he was looking into a mirror and he was mimicking facial features that then he would translate into sculpture. It was in the Age of Enlightenment that medical experiments took place, that doctors tried to find what triggers different emotion and different reactions, and Messerschmidt was fascinated by these experiments. And that may have been the inspiration for him to start this series. But there is also a very strong indication that he may have had schizophrenia.

A contemporary noted that the artist hoped to ward away spirits that had invaded his mind by capturing them in these different heads. The psychological rendering evokes a kind of curiosity when you gaze at him, but I think it's really up to the person to decide what is going on.

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