PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTOR
signed: F. MESSER. SCHMIT. and inscribed SCHENKIVCZ ME GENUIT. TIRNAVIA PINGUIS ALEBAT. BUDA TENET. VULTUS ARS HABE ISTA MEOS. 1782 (Schenkvicz begot me. Fertile Tirnavia nurtured me. Buda keeps me. This work of art bears my facial features. 1782)
Messerschmidt's bust of the famous Hungarian historian, Martin Georg Kovachich, is the sculptor's last known work.
Aged only 47 when he died, Messerschmidt's artistic creativity and innovation were undiminished at his untimely death. The portrait of Kovachich is intensely modern in its sharp articulation of the physigionomny and meticulous in the treatment of the Hungarian costume and hair. It incorporates all the precision of observation which make Messerschmidt's character heads so engaging.
Messerschmidt made Kovachich's portrait from sittings during a visit to Bratislava in 1782. Kovachich wrote to the sculptor on 1st May 1783 extolling his artistic virtues and expressing his appreciation by sending gifts, including a half cask of red wine and Spanish tobacco. By then the bust was installed in Kovachich's study in Buda. His letter goes on to discuss his regret at not being able to have had his portrait cast in bronze and wishes that he could acquire other works by him but confessed to a lack of funds. That bust was sold by S. Berger to the Hungarian Portrait Gallery in 1896 from where it entered the Museum of Fine Arts in 1943.
Messerschmidt's bust of Martin Georg Kovachich must count as one of the most important portraits of the Enlightenment. As the current Neue Gallery catalogue notes 'with its simple, objectively described clothing, stiff wig, and the lengthy mottos chosen with pedantic erudition, the bust depicts the historian from Buda as the prototypical Josephinian representative of the Enlightenment. The rigid, austere portrait with its simplified form has thus also become a monument of its epoch'.
The present bust is made of a lead-tin alloy which is consistent with other works by Messerschmidt and the casting appears to be consistent with an late 18th century date. The hair, eyebrows and costume are chased and finished to a very high degree. However, the form of the signature and inscription is inconsistent with the Budapest bust of Kovachich and the other inscriptions which may indicate a later date of manufacture. It is interesting to note that two character heads that fall outside the numbered group (Palazzo Coronini Cronberg, Gorizia, inv. nos. 796-7) -which were part of a group of late busts sold from Messerschmidt's estate between 1783 and 1793 by his brother- are thought to have later signatures (op.cit. Pötzl and Scherf, p. 189-90).
M. Pötzl-Malikova, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Munich, 1982, pp. 239-240, no. 63; M. Krapf (ed.), Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2003, pp.214-215, no. 62; M. Pötzl-Malikova and G. Scherf (eds.), Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1783: From Neoclassicism to Expressionism, exh. cat. Neue Galerie and Muséee du Louvre, New York/ Paris, 2010, pp. 92-95, no. 7
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