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Matthias Buchinger was an artist and performer born without legs or arms who had three wives and 70 mistresses

Matthias Buchinger
Matthias Buchinger

Matthias Buchinger was born in 1674 in the city of Ansbach, Germany. He was born without arms and feet and was 74 centimeters tall. Despite lacking the typical extremities, he was an accomplished artist, magician, musician, performer, and calligrapher who specialized in micrography.

Buchinger entertained the kings and aristocrats all across Northern Europe and was recognized by the terms “The Greatest German Living” and “Little Man from Nuremberg”.


Matthias Buchinger - a self portrait
Matthias Buchinger – a self-portrait

He was also very skilled in performing hoi polloi. Only King George I refused to meet him, but when he did, Buchinger traveled to Ireland in 1720. For two years he performed publicly in Dublin and in 1722 he moved to Belfast. Fame followed him wherever he went.

He was performing all kinds of shows – he played on almost ten different instruments including the dulcimer, hautboy, trumpet, flute, and some instruments that he himself invented. Among all the other things, he enjoyed creating ships in a bottle.

He performed trick shots with pistols, swords, and bowls. He was also very good in performing magic tricks with cups and balls and was quite good in dancing the hornpipe on his leather-clad stumps.

His greatest skill was in calligraphy, especially micrography. He was a painter whose illustrations were made of infinitesimal text and were often made for the royalties.

The detailed writing embedded in the engraving
The detailed writing embedded in the engraving

Even though he had small, finlike appendages for hands, he was capable of creating amazingly detailed engravings. His most famous work is a self-portrait in which the curls of his hair consist of seven biblical psalms and the Lord’s Prayer, inscribed in miniature letters, almost invisible to a naked eye.

Apparently, he was also skilled in seducing women. There was a famous term that spread across England in the 1780s – “Buckinger’s boot” that was a euphemism for the vagina (because the only “limb” he had was his penis).

He married four times and had at least 14 children by eight different women. Rumors also spread that he had even more children by 70 mistresses. He died in 1740, in Cork, Ireland at the age of 65.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented 16 of his graphic works in a historical show entitled, “Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Drawings From the Collection of Ricky Jay”.

Ricky Jay. Photo credit
Ricky Jay. Photo credit

Ricky Jay – actor and magician, was fascinated by Buchinger and his work.

Here is another interesting read from our art files:Artist transforms historic glass-plate photos into lively & slightly surreal work of art

The research he made into Buchinger’s life took him more than 30 years. In 2016 he published the book Matthias Buchinger: ‘The Greatest German Living’ by Ricky Jay, Whose Peregrinations in Search of the ‘Little Man of Nuremberg’ Are Herein Revealed

Tijana Radeska

Tijana Radeska is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News