Messerschmidt's Character Heads: Maddening Sculpture and the Writing of Art History, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Messerschmidt's Character Heads

Maddening Sculpture and the Writing of Art History, 1st Edition

By Michael Yonan


194 pages | 35 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138213432
pub: 2017-10-04
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315448404
pub: 2017-09-22
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This book examines a famous series of sculptures by the German artist Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) known as his "Character Heads." These are busts of human heads, highly unconventional for their time, representing strange, often inexplicable facial expressions. Scholars have struggled to explain these works of art.  Some have said that Messerschmidt was insane, while others suggested that he tried to illustrate some sort of intellectual system. Michael Yonan argues that these sculptures are simultaneously explorations of art’s power and also critiques of the aesthetic limits that would be placed on that power.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Part I: Writing the Artist’s Mind

Introduction to Part I

Chapter 1: Nicolai’s Dreamer

Chapter 2: Kris’s Psychotic

Part II: Writing the Artist’s Context

Introduction to Part II

Chaper 3: Mesmer’s Acolyte

Chapter 4: Lichtenberg’s Ally

Part III: Writing the Artist’s Project

Introduction to Part III

Chapter 5: The Game of Making

Chapter 6: The Envy of the Gods


About the Author

Michael Yonan is associate professor of art history at the University of Missouri–Columbia, USA. He is a specialist in eighteenth-century European art and material culture.

About the Series

Studies in Art Historiography

Studies in Art Historiography
The aim of this series is to support and promote the study of the history and practice of art historical writing focussing on its institutional and conceptual foundations, from the past to the present day in all areas and all periods. Besides addressing the major innovators of the past it also encourages re-thinking ways in which the subject may be written in the future. It ignores the disciplinary boundaries imposed by the Anglophone expression 'art history' and allows and encourages the full range of enquiry that encompasses the visual arts in its broadest sense as well as topics falling within archaeology, anthropology, ethnography and other specialist disciplines and approaches. It welcomes contributions from young and established scholars and is aimed at building an expanded audience for what has hitherto been a much specialised topic of investigation. It complements the work of the Journal of Art Historiography.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / European
ART / Individual Artists / Monographs
ART / Sculpture & Installation
ART / Subjects & Themes / Human Figure
HISTORY / Europe / Germany
HISTORY / Modern / 18th Century