A Hypochondriac

about 1775-80
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Austrian, 1736–1783)

Object Place: Europe, Austria


Overall: 42.6 x 25 x 23 cm (16 3/4 x 9 13/16 x 9 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

Charlotte F. and Irving W. Rabb Gallery (Gallery 155)





Head of grimacing bald man from square block with incised numeral 36.

Late in his life, Messerschmidt devoted himself to a series of forty-nine sculptures known as “Character Heads.” In this series, he studied his features in a mirror and represented them in various grimacing, pinched, or smiling expressions. Linked to the interest in physiognomy current in the later eighteenth century, the Character Heads also indicate Messerschmidt’s fragile psychological state. Head of a Hypochondriac is marked on the base as number 36 in the series.


1793, exhibited in Vienna [see note 1]. 1956, Johannes Jantzen, Bad Homburg, Germany; 1957, sold by Jantzen through Ernst E. Kofler, Lucerne, to the MFA for $2,880. (Accession Date: February 14, 1957)

[1] After Messerschmidt's death in 1783, a series of "character heads" were discovered in his studio. Of the 69 found, 49 were exhibited in Vienna in 1793. See "Wiener Zeitung" 89 (November 6, 1793), 5. The MFA bust is the original "Hypochondriac" (36th in the series).

Credit Line

William E. Nickerson Fund, No. 2