The Madness of Messerschmidt

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was labelled mad in his own century and by the time he died in 1783 he had produced sixty four remarkable busts of himself which reflected his state of mind and his attempt to alleviate his perplexing ailments.  They still manage to look more contemporary than a lot of twenty first century art - perhaps madness can be liberating after all.

His situation came to a head in 1774 when he applied for the position of leading professor at the Academy (where he had been a teacher since the late 1760s). Far from getting the promotion he expected and desired he was barred from teaching altogether. The Chancellor of State, Count Kaunitz felt compelled to write a letter to the Empress explaining why this had happened. Messerschmidt’s state of mind was referred to as a ‘confusion in the head’ in this letter.


From the Upcoming ueue, submitted by taliesyn30.

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Strange- I see distorted faces, true. But, like "The Vexed Man" that would look "truly troubled"--- No. I see a bust of a man that holds his face all tensioned for a pose like in childsplay and nothing more. Some of the other faces look somewhat like cartoons, but even those are very posed. Like VM says Da Vinci has drawn far heavier distorted and therefore disturbed faces.

He was intelligent and very much aware of his own state. He seems to have tried to get a grip on his own compulsion to tense and distort his face, to compulsioningly need to grimace. He seems to have created them to be able to look and wonder at his face -perhaps in bemusement or despair- in quiet and to discuss them with others, because it is rather hard to look in a mirror and just look while grimacing so hard.
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Freaky as they are, they are not weirder than, say, some of Da Vinci's caricature sketches. Velasquez did a series of studies of madmen. And the modeling's not more "hyper-real" than Bernini could chisel. Rather than striking me as "contemporary" looking, I get the vibe of Baroque caricatures...which would mean he was actually artistically behind the times.
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We all have to cope some how with our pain. The best way is to find a way to explain what we are feeling in a way where other people might be able to understand, and help ourselves start somewhere to begin to understand it more as well.
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