3 June 1674, the 29’’ tall polymath and contemporary show star Matthias Buchinger was born in Ansbach, Bavaria.
“He is the wonderful Little Man of but 29 inches high, born without hands, feet, or thighs, June the 2[nd], 1674, in Germany, in the Marquisate of Brandenburg, near to Nuremburg. . . . This Little Man performs such wonders as have never been done by any but himself. He plays on various sorts of music to admiration, [such] as the hautboy, [a] strange flute in consort with the bagpipe, dulcimer and trumpet; and designs to make machines to play on almost all sorts of music. He is no less eminent for writing, drawing of coats of arms, and pictures to the life, with a pen; he also plays at cards and dice, performs tricks with cups and balls, corn and live birds; and plays at skittles or nine-pins to a great nicety, with several other performances, to the general satisfaction of all spectators.” (Matthias Buchinger, describing himself in an advertisement)
|"Matthias Buchinger" - a self-portrait from 1723, |
along with the advertisement quoted above
|Matthias Buchinger's micrographic portrait of Queen Anne from 1718, |
signed with "This is drawn and written by me, Matthew Buchinger born June 3, 1674.
Without Hands & Feet in Anspach in Germany"
Born as the last of nine children, Matthias was grateful to his parents throughout his life that they treated him quite like the rest of his siblings and did not sell him to a travelling freak show or something along these lines, not an unusual fate, obviously. He had the time to develop his talents, like learning to walk with the help of a floor-length, apron-like leather shell he propelled forward by shifting his weight. When his parents died, Matthias voluntarily joined the travelling showmen’s trade to make a living and to further hone his many skills and to entertain far beyond the mere display of his curious appearance like many of the folks did who somehow looked out of the ordinary. And there was another self-taught skill of Buchinger’s that would last beyond his certainly grandiose performances on the stage or during privately held shows. He was an accomplished visual artist as well. And as though it was not enough to be an accomplished draughtsman with two flipper-like appendices instead of hands, Buchinger did not only earn good money by drawing highly detailed family trees for the aristocracy but excelled in a rare form of calligraphy as well: micrography. Also known as microcalligraphy, micrography basically is the art of drawing by making up the lines with miniature writing, in Buchinger’s case usually bible verses. There’s even the possibility that he was a “quick-drawer” or “lightning draughtsman. Nobody knows how exactly he did it, but he did, his wonderful micrographic drawings survive to this day and along with his stage magician acts, his somewhat esoteric artworks brought him the reputation of being a true-blue wizard. With the sum of Buchinger’s talents being even more than the parts, a notion that is not very hard to follow.
|A contemporary German broadsheet showing Matthias Buchinger |
exhibiting some of his show acts and many talents
There is no hint, though, that Buchinger was a member of one of the more popular magical or secret societies of his day, like the Rosicrucians or Freemasons but he created a magical world of his own regardless. And there is the obvious suspicion that he didn’t work alone, at least not all the time and with every trick he managed to entertain his audience with. He was a master showman regardless as well as a polymath and did not only overcome his physical disadvantages but developed them into an art form. Buchinger finally settled down in Ireland and died in Cork in 1740 at the age of 65 as one of the most exceptional and extravagant individuals in modern European history.
And more about Matthias Buchinger on: