Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) left behind 55 character heads; 17 in alabaster, 36 in metal (usually a tin-copper alloy), one in wood and one in limestone. He never named them himself and just referred to them as 'heads'. The name they are known by now and the indication of the moods and characters they portray originated in an anonymous publication that appeared some ten years after his death.

Messerschmidt set out to illustrate a range of emotional responses to pain as a scientific system which he believed would help others in distress. He also intended for the poses to ward off the evil spirits which had haunted him since he recovered from an illness in 1774. To visualize his physiological response, he pinched himself near the rib area to create pain.
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