Let A ∈ ℒ(Cn) and A1, A2 be the unique Hermitian operators such that A = A1 + i A2. The paper is concerned with the differential structure of the numerical range map nA: x ↦ ((A1x, x), (A1x, x)) and its connection with certain natural subsets of the numerical range W(A) of A. We completely characterize the various sets of critical and regular points of the map nA as well as their respective images within W(A). In particular, we show that the plane algebraic curves introduced by R. Kippenhahn appear naturally in this context. They basically coincide with the image of the critical points of nA.