Here's a pretty good elevator speech about Franz Xaver Messerschmidt from www.artexpertswebsite.com -
"Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was an Austrian sculptor, known for his highly expressive busts of people making less than dignified faces. Messerschmidt quite literally broke the mold when it came to traditional 18th century busts and sculpture portraits, not necessarily in his technique or materials, but more so in his subject matter. In an era where stately men and women of power and wealth were having serious busts commissioned for themselves, Messerschmidt focused on capturing human expression in a way that was far more advanced than many other artists of his time."
Some say Messerschmidt was insane and so sculpted about 70 Character Heads as a way for him to reclaim reality. There are written accounts by Friedrich Nicolai who took first hand notes on Messerschmidt. According to Nicolai, Messerschmidt told him that the Spirit of Proportions was envious of the artist's discovery of the relation between the face and the body - and tortured him for it. To break the Spirit's power, Messerschmidt contorted his face and thus sculpted these grimaces.
Only about 45 of these Character Heads have survived and they pose to be quite a curiosity. Messerschmidt never named these busts and were not commissioned to create them - leaving much ambiguity as to the real purpose to the heads and leaves us to question whether they are self-portraits.
Personally, I believe Messerchmidt was exploring how far one can mutilate expression. He was pushing the boundaries of caricature and really did not embed much of himself into these masks. And so I always found it funny to imagine a serious art historian examining a Character Head up close...all while the head was laughing at the viewer's frustration. Can you imagine?
Sometimes you just cant be that serious!
Although I have not examined each Character Head myself, I feel like there wouldn't be one that had no expression at all - otherwise how would Messerschmidt have broken the Spirit's power over him? And so I started simple...