Like practically all of the objects in the "Character Heads" collection, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s bust "The Simpleton" was not given this name until after the artist’s death. The occasion was an exhibition at the Bürgerspitalhaus in Vienna at which the heads, given various obscure designations, were shown to accompany a catalogue published in 1793. A photograph from 1906 published by Josef Wlha recalls the plaster cast dating from the early nineteenth century commissioned by the Prince of Liechtenstein. — We are confronted by a elderly bald-headed man stretching his face towards us. His eyes are wide open forming deep furrows in his brow, and his lips are pressed tightly together. The 1793 exhibition catalogue written by Franz Strunz says of it: “A simpleton! A true and genuine unadulterated nincompoop. Very stupid but guilelessly sardonic and mischievous. Like a child on the verge of crying or laughing out loud. Useless but always busily and insistently doing nothing or reacting like a child to everything: annoying but a remarkable lesson in tolerance at the same time.” — The modern observer might not agree that the figure is on the verge of laughing or crying. We can see a person in a state of high tension, whose facial expression is emphasized by the bulging neck muscles. Only the "Second Beak Head" has more intense and unnatural-looking features. — Perhaps the figure suffers from dystonia, an extrapyramidal nervous disorder often characterized by facial cramping. This connection was only recently identified by the psychiatrist Michal Maršalek and seen as a possible interpretation by Maria Pötzl-Malikova. — [Georg Lechner, 10/2015]

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Subject TermsLate Baroque, Baroque, Late, busts (general, figures), bust (general, figure), alabaster (mineral)
ProviderEuropeana 280