The image of the body-face: The case of Franz X. Messerschmidt and Bill Viola


  • Maria Popczyk


body, physionomy, aesthetics, art, emotion, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Bill Viola, contemporary art, bodily expression


In this paper, I am predominantly interested in interpretations of emotional states portrayed in images of the face. In particular, the interpretations which have grown around the series of busts by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, as well as those which attempt to expound Bill Viola’s video works. I will refer to aspects of physiognomy, artistic practices and aesthetics, in order to show what each of these tells us about our attitude to the body and emotions and what happens to the body while a person is experiencing an emotion. My aim is to demonstrate how the act of depicting the body, regarded as a cognitive process in an artistic medium accompanied by a special kind of aesthetic experience, becomes a means of communication which is capable of conveying a universal message and of allowing us to define our attitude to the body.