Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
(February 6, 1736 – August 19, 1783)
In 1781, German author Friedrich Nicolai visited Messerschmidt at his studio in Pressburg and subsequently published a transcript of their conversation.
Nicolai's account of the meeting is a valuable resource, as it is the only contemporary document that details Messerschmidt's reasoning behind the execution of his character heads.
It appears that for many years Messerschmidt had been suffering from an undiagnosed digestive complaint, now believed to be Crohn's disease, which caused him considerable discomfort.
In order to focus his thoughts away from his condition, Messerschmidt devised a series of pinches he administered to his right lower rib. Observing the resulting facial expressions in a mirror, Messerschmidt then set about recording them in marble and bronze.
His intention, he told Nicolai, was to represent the 64 "canonical grimaces" of the human face using himself as a template.