J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Matthias Buchinger’s Micrography at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is featuring a small exhibit about a small eighteenth-century celebrity, Matthias Buchinger (1674-1739).

Buchinger was from the German margraviate of Brandenburg-Ansbach. He was only twenty-nine inches tall. He was born without hands or feet.

Despite those physical limitations, Buchinger became a skilled sleight-of-hand artist, musician, and visual artist. He traveled northern Europe displaying his talents, eventually settling in Ireland with his fourth wife.

The Met’s exhibit highlights one facet of Buchinger’s art: micrography, or writing very, very small. In 1764 Horace Walpole recalled that Buchinger “used to write the Lord’s Prayer in the compass of a silver penny.” Later, after he became afflicted with gout, Walpole would compare himself to Buchinger “writing with his stump!”

Shown here is a print of one of Buchinger’s self-portraits. If one looks very, very closely in the engraving at the pattern that defines his wig, one can see that it consists of the words of seven Biblical psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. (Don’t strain yourself here; the resolution isn’t good enough.)

The exhibit contains over a dozen Buchinger drawings from the collection of modern conjurer Ricky Jay, who has also written the new book Matthias Buchinger: “The Greatest German Living”. It will be on display until 11 April.

Here are articles about Buchinger and his micrography, with more illustrations, from The New Yorker, Hyperallergic, and The New York Times.


Chaucerian said...

There has got to be a better way of describing whatever magician's skills Buchinger was gifted with than "sleight-of-hand." The man had no hands, you just said. So what did he do to show dexterity (another ill-chosen word, because he didn't have fingers either) and how did he do it?

J. L. Bell said...

Buchinger's specialty was cups-and-balls illusions, a type of close-up magic. As for how he did all he did, that's the biggest mystery of all.