Vandyke and Titian these immortal Men.
Were they alive, who lively Figures drew,
They’d drop their Pencils if they saw your Pen,
And blushing paint their Cheeks and yield to you.
Matthias Buchinger (1674-1739) performed on more than a half-dozen musical instruments, some of his own invention. He exhibited trick shots with pistols, swords and bowling. He danced the hornpipe and deceived audiences with his skill in magic. He was a remarkable calligrapher specializing in micrography—precise handsome letters almost impossible to view with the naked eye—and he drew portraits, coats of arms, landscapes and family trees, many commissioned by royalty. Amazingly, Matthias Buchinger was just twenty-nine inches tall, and born without legs or arms. He lived to the ripe old age of sixty-five, survived three wives, wed a fourth, and fathered fourteen children.
Accompanying the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Inventive Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay,” this book is a cabinet containing a single, multi-faceted wonder, refracted through acclaimed sleight-of-hand master Ricky Jay’s scholarship and storytelling. Alongside an unprecedented and sumptuously reproduced selection of Buchinger’s marvelous drawings and etchings, Jay delves into the history and mythology of the “Little Man,” while also chronicling his encounters with the many fascinating characters he meets in his passionate search for Buchinger.
Acknowledged as one of the world’s great sleight-of-hand artists, Ricky Jay has received accolades as a performer, actor, and author. He was recently profiled on the series American Masters and is the subject of the film Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. Jay has written frequently on unusual entertainments, and his Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women and Jay’s Journal of Anomalies were both New York Times “Notable Books of the Year.” The former curator of the Mulholland Library of Conjuring and the Allied Arts, he has defined the terms of his profession for the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Cambridge Guide to American Theater.
*1722 and 1723 are the dates of the above quoted poems, but Buchinger’s death was years later (in 1739). Jay devotes the final chapter (“Greatly Exaggerated”) to the many premature eulogies dedicated to the “Little Man.”