A skilled modelmaker, marksman, swordsman, musician and magician, he is most famed for his abilities as a calligrapher. His specialism, probably learned from the German artist and engraver Johann Michael Püchler (fl.1680-1702), was the ancient Jewish technique of micrography in which flowing lines of tiny text are used to build pictorial images.
In 2016, the Met in New York presented 16 of his graphic works in an exhibition titled Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay. One exhibit, a c.1724 engraving of Buchinger’s self-portrait, includes the Lord’s Prayer and the words of seven psalms drawn with the curls of his hair. Jay, a US magician (1946-2018), collected micrography for more than 30 years.
Examples of Buchinger’s calligraphy are rare on the market. However, South Cerney auction house Dominic Winter offered one for sale on July 30. It came from the collection of the late Jack Webb (1923-2019), Camden Passage dealer and passionate collector of militaria and objets d’art.
It took the form of a 3 x 2½in (7.5 x 6cm) box fashioned in wood and ivory as a ‘leather’ bound book. Under glass were two calligraphic red and sepia ink on paper panels. One formed the design of a chalice and wafer in biblical verse, the other with the Ten Commandments penned on stone tablets.
Both miniature works carried the inscription Dublin Febr the 8 d 1720/21. This is Written by Mathew Buchinger born Without Hands or feet in Germany June the 3 d 1674 – a reference to the artist’s regular visits to Great Britain and Ireland. Buchinger is known to have performed in Dublin in 1720 and Belfast in 1722 and died, aged 66, while in Cork.
This tiny object had been overlooked at probate stage and Dominic Winter plumped for what proved an attractive estimate of £700-1000. With seven phone bidders from Germany and the UK expressing interest, it sold at £8000 (plus 20% buyer’s premium) to a British private collector.
Jack Webb’s collection of medals and militaria will be sold by Dix Noonan Webb on August 20. His archive of cased photographs of British military subjects will be offered as part of the Dominic Winter Photography sale in November.