Portrait of Matthew Buchinger.

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Elias Bäck (1679–1747), also known as Heldenmuth.


Portrait of Matthew Buchinger.


Regensburg, Germany




Etching, signed by Buchinger, ink on paper.

Matthew Buchinger (1674–1739) was a phocomelic, twenty-nine-inch-tall overachiever. He was a legless and armless conjurer and calligrapher who danced the hornpipe and played more than a half-dozen musical instruments, some of his own invention. Among his formidable accomplishments was fathering fourteen children.

He is pictured here surrounded by thirteen vignettes of his various exhibitions: executing trick skittle or bowling shots, threading a needle, playing the dulcimer, charging a gun, shaving himself, placing figures within a bottle, drawing, writing, cutting a quill, and performing conjuring with coins, cards, dice, and cups and balls. He was a master of micrography and was able to produce coats of arms, family trees, and portraits with almost unimaginably small calligraphy. He signed this souvenir print in forwards, backwards and mirror writing.

In my many years of collecting books, broadsides, and the iconography of celebrated and unusual characters, no one fascinates me more than Buchinger, “The Little Man of
Nuremberg.” I mention him at every opportunity and am now writing a biography to accompany an exhibition of his work: Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Inventive Drawing from the Collection of Ricky Jay, opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in January 2016.


Ricky Jay