Although the Cybis studio produced a multitude of madonnas throughout their 75-year history, the majority of them made their first appearance during the 1950s. At that time the studio was going through a transition from the very ornate rococo Cordey line to the more realistic bisque designs of the newly-named Cybis Art Porcelain studio. However, although all of these madonnas were produced under the Cybis name many of them hark back to their Cordey predecessors via their colors, glazing technique, or decoration style.
These 1950s-era madonnas can be a challenge to date and/or identify, not only because few detailed records were kept by the studio during the 1950s but also because not all of them were given retail names.
Compounding the confusion is the fact that during that decade most (possibly all) of the items sold by Cybis were not from molds they designed, but instead were purchased from various ceramics mold manufacturers in Trenton, such as the Holland Mold Company; that story is told in When Is a Cybis Not a Cybis. The Cybis studio was by no means the only one doing this; in fact, their rival Boehm purchased one of the exact same madonna molds shown below and was selling it under the Boehm imprint at the same time Cybis was selling theirs! (In this post the madonnas that are definitely known to be products of another company’s mold are noted as such at the end of the description.)
The appearance of the Cybis signature on the 1950s madonnas can also vary. Many of them were signed (or stamped) in a distinctive blue paint that was not used in any other decade. A few pieces continued to be produced into the early 1960s, by which time the studio had transitioned to brown signatures, and so a blue signature would indicate an earlier-created piece. The post covering Signatures and Marks contains color examples of each and their approximate date ranges. By the way, the 1950s Cybis pieces do not bear the copyright symbol because they did not begin copyrighting items until the 1960s.
A curious fact is that, with only one exception from the 1980s, every one of the Cybis madonnas has been an open (non-limited) edition. For the 1950s pieces this is a given because Cybis did not begin creating numbered limited editions until 1960 but it is unusual that although every other genre of Cybis sculptures eventually included multiple limited editions, there was only one limited-edition madonna design.
It should be noted that Cybis frequently created non-retail production runs of religious sculptures for local New Jersey churches during this period, and many of those must have been madonnas although they also included saints. Some of the female saint sculptures are easily mistaken for madonnas; I once owned one (unfortunately I no longer have the sculpture nor a photo of it) that was a glazed full figure about 6” high, originally sold as a “madonna.” I became curious about the anchor at her feet and the seaside rushes she held in her arms, and sent a photograph of her to the Cybis studio asking for information. The director, Joseph Chorlton, recognized her from his early days at the studio and was able to identify her as Saint Philomena, Patroness of the Sea. There are no doubt many of these special sculptures waiting to be discovered and catalogued!
Because there are so many Cybis madonnas, I’ve separated the overview into two parts. This one focuses only on those that were introduced to the retail market during the 1950s. Even though some of them continued to be produced until the early to mid 1960s, they were all first introduced during the 1950s. The madonnas that were introduced to the retail market from 1960 onward are covered in the next post.
My first two Cybis-signed examples show the small bust that was sold simply as Madonna starting in 1950 and has been produced by them in one form or another ever since. It is 4.5” high and 3.75” wide and in the early 1960s sold for $10 or less. Both of these have a “Cordey-esque” decorative style but are both signed Cybis in the proper manner for that time. Notice the wide lace trim on the front of the veil, which is something that won’t be seen again on this madonna for another ten years. The mold number for this lace-trimmed rose-adorned bust was 201 which strongly indicates that this was the first madonna they issued under the Cybis branding (assuming that no other religious piece was assigned mold #200.) All Cybis religious items have always had mold/design numbers beginning with 2. I am deliberately using “mold number” rather than “design number” for the 1950s pieces because few if any pieces made in that decade were orginal Cybis designs. (Holland Mold) [Cybis design #201]
1950s footed Cybis madonna bust with ruffled lace and flowers. This is a really unique find which seems to combine elements of several madonnas that Cybis was producing at this time. The mold seems to be the same as the previous bust but the shoulders are missing. The paint and glazing of both are Cordey-esque but the pedestal is not. Of course one could not put the “wide shouldered bust” atop a pedestal like this and so perhaps this was an experiment in adapting that mold to a different use. Frankly, I find it more attractive than the original version! The seller-cited height of 6.75” makes sense because the original mold is 4.5” high… add a 2.25” high pedestal and there you have it. (adaptation of the Holland mold) [Cybis design #213]
Although this bust dates from the 1950s as per the blue-stamped Cybis signature, it does seem to have a tiny “design holdover” from the late 1940s, i.e. the unusual cutout eyes. As shown in the 1940s Papka and Porcelain post, a very small number of prototype busts were made with similar eyes. However, those were not religious pieces and were done in a different material than this bust. The material and decoration of this bust is closer to the look of the Cordey line and interestingly, the color and pattern on this bust’s veil is very similar to some examples of Cordey lady busts. But I digress..
The designer of this bust was (with 99.9999% certainty) Harry L. Burger who was also the designer of a Cordey-branded madonna and child which was then subsequently released in 1957 with a Cybis mark as the House of Gold shown later in this post. In fact this head is so similar to that one as to be almost an exact copy, albeit in a different size; this bust is 12.75″ high while the House of Gold’s head is smaller. The main difference is that the head of the seated madonna is tilted.
It was apparantly made in two hair colorways: brown and blonde. Because Mr. Burger was a freelance artist, it’s not known whether this bust was originally commissioned from him by Cybis or whether it was originally created for a commercial mold company and purchased by the Cybis studio; however, I suspect the commission scenario is more likely.
In stark contrast to the ‘candle madonna’ this early 1950s madonna in stained glass decoration, 9” high and 5.5” wide, has a very subtle floral patterning on her veil. Note difference in color intensity between these two examples.
This third madonna is the same, but with hands added… and rather awkwardly, I think. They are apparantly the same hands that were used with the Annunciation madonna bust (shown further down in this post) which was being produced at the same time. She has the script Cybis stamp in blue paint and also the block ‘Fine China’ stamp below the name, which is legitimate for pieces made in the 1950s. (The example above also has a broken/missing index finger.) This was probably also a commercial mold, even if not from Holland’s. It was retired before 1963.
This same bust was also used for a larger Immaculate Heart of Mary (see below for the smaller one which is on a pedestal base). The heart is part of the mold rather than being glued on as was first suspected. This invites speculation as to whether the mold was available in both a plain-front and heart version or whether Cybis recast the plain mold themselves and redesigned it with the heart. The smaller, different mold had a companion Sacred Heart of Jesus bust, which leads one to wonder if there was a corresponding bust for this one as well.
This madonna mold became the hugely popular ‘Queen of Angels’ introduced later in the decade. In the 1979 Cybis catalog appendix this is the one listed as “Madonna Bust” with a height of 8 inches, but it has since been identified as having been named Mother Most Admirable. (Heights given in Cybis literature were rounded to the nearest half-inch and so it’s common to find pieces that actually measure slightly more or less than indicated in their catalogs and ads.) This bust was produced from the 1950s (no precise introduction date) until 1965, and in several colorway versions; here is the all-white bisque. This colorway sold for $10 during its entire 1950s-1965 production run. The Cybis mold designation for this madonna was #2020. (Holland Mold)
For this example they combined a white bisque bust with a base which, although it may appear black at first glance, is actually an extremely dark green. Despite the slight reflectance, the base is not glazed but only painted. It is signed Cybis but also bears the mold number in pencil, with the W apparantly denoting that the bust itself should remain white although the base is colored. The Cybis catalog does note that this madonna was produced in both W and C colorways. “C” denotes any type of applied color. The color versions all sold for $15 during the 1950s-1965 production run.
This bust would be classified as their “Cypia” (sepia) tonation by Cybis collectors. Notice that a gold edge has been added to her neckline, an element that will reappear in some of the examples of its later conversion to the ‘Queen of Angels.’ The base is the same dark green as seen in the white-bust version but in this case it is highly glazed as well, making the piece a combination of bisque (matte) and glazed. By the way, only some of the 1950s pieces retain their penciled design numbers.
Here are the three color versions shown together, and also illustrating the variations possible in the underside markings.
The same bust but with blue eyes and some blue shading to her veil, on a dark glazed base.
These two photos show examples that were done in Cybis’ proprietary “stained glass decoration”; the deep rich color and high glaze makes the pedestal portion of the mold appear almost like polished wood.
Here is an example with a halo added; it’s different from the others illustrated here in several other ways too. First, the painted floral decoration on her shirt — I have never seen that on this piece before. She lacks the typical base section. And last but certainly not least, the painting technique is a bit unusual: Can’t say I’m a fan of the red-rimmed-eyes look, nor of the ‘rouge’ effect on her cheeks. I have a suspicion that this might be one of the early versions of Mother Most Admirable, before the studio made her a bit more “refined.” Many thanks to the Museum of American Porcelain Art for sharing these photos of their piece.
Update, March 2020: It has been discovered that this “#2020 with halo” not only had its own Cybis design number (2025) but came in two sizes: small (approx. 7.5″) and large (approx. 9.5″), which were differentiated by a letter added to the design number (2025S and 2025L.)
A rare treat: A ‘rainbow’ of Mother Most Admirable busts!
There are three ways to approximate when a specific sculpture was actually made. (1) The glazed versions were only made during the 1950s. (2) For the bisque (unglazed) versions, if the signature is stamped rather than handwritten (see the Signatures post for examples), this usually indicates a 1950s piece. (3) If the copyright symbol appears next to the Cybis name, that usually indicates the piece was made in 1960 or later. It’s possible that a few pieces made in 1958 or 1959 may also have it, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the studio began adding it regularly. (This rule of thumb doesn’t apply to any 1940s pieces to which the studio added a modern signature and the copyright symbol during the 1990s, however!)
This Madonna in Prayer from the early 1950s is also done in the stained-glass decoration. She is 7.25” high and 5” wide and carries the blue Cybis stamp in script with the ‘Fine China’ stamp (also in blue) immediately below it. She was retired before 1963. This piece is actually a smaller version of the Mystical Rose bust shown later in this post.
‘Immaculate Conception’ also dates from the early 1950s. She is 15” high. The monochrome Cybis photo shows it in white bisque although clearly it was also made in color and/or stained glass finish. In 1963 the white bisque sold for $30, and the color one for $37.50. This was a Holland Mold Company design.
This Madonna and Child is very unusual in that it’s one of the very few that had gold leaf (“old coin gold“) covering the ‘skin’ areas. The rest of the piece is probably in their highly glazed color ‘stained glass’ finish. It is about 12” high. This was a non-Cybis mold design that was retired before 1963.
This madonna with floral crown was identified in a 1970s dealer estate listing as Immaculate Conception but that is unconfirmed because as shown above, Cybis did have another piece by that name. The eagle mark dates it as having been made between 1947 and 1951. It was produced in white bisque with a glazed finish. Fairly large at 18” tall and 6.5” wide, her crown of flowers suggests that she might even have been a full-figure ‘Mystical Rose.’ She could also be any of the known but unpictured madonnas listed at the end of this post.
‘The Annunciation’ was produced from the early 1950s until its retirement in 1965. It was made both with and without a hand-carved wood halo. There is some confusion about the heights with and without the halo but it seems to be in the 8” to 9” range. The 1963 price list, which does not mention a halo, has this piece as being 7.5″ high and priced at $30 in plain white bisque or $37.50 for color.
A fascinating discovery was this Annunciation wearing a floral crown which predates the ‘Queen of Angels’! What we don’t know is whether this version of Annunciation inspired the creation of the latter piece, or whether it was the other way around. I suspect that the 1950s pieces were the ones done in the stained glass (glazed) decoration while the 1960s ones were probably bisque like the one with the floral crown. By the way, the hands are at slightly different angles because they were separate pieces. (Holland Mold)
Mater Dolorosa was produced starting in the mid 1950s until retirement in 1964. The bust itself is plain white bisque while this base mold is a glazed dark color similar to some of the Mother Most Admirable versions. It is cited as being 10” high overall and sold for $15 during the entire production run. This was a non-Cybis mold, possibly from either Atlantic or Holland. The separately-sold but companion Jesus bust was named Ecce Homo.
A Mater Dolorosa that is not mounted on a base, raising the question of whether the 10″ height cited in the Cybis literature was with or without a base included.
Similar in style to the foregoing, Mirror of Justice was a product of the 1950s that was retired before 1963. She too had a separate companion sculpture (Sun of Justice). The example shown here, from the 1979 Cybis catalog, shows it without the wood base that I have seen in other literature; it’s unknown whether the base was optional (perhaps that’s what Cybis was trying to indicate). The same catalog gives the height as 17” and the retail pricing during production as $110. It also doesn’t specify whether the ornate halo – which also appears on the companion – is made of porcelain or of wood. A major retailer (Armstrong’s of California) offered the pair in the early 1970s and described the finish as stained glass. It also mentioned that they had the ‘eagle’ backstamp which would indicate they were early pieces. Both of those were shown on wood bases.
There must have been different versions of these because this one is in a faint Cypia tonation and has neither halo nor base. It also reveals something that is not apparent in the official Cybis photo: It has a flat back! Did the hole at the top serve a dual purpose of providing the necessary escape of air during the firing process and a later attachment point for the halo option?? (See the Jesus Sculptures post for the companion version of this.)
This 1950s sitting madonna and child (actual name unknown) was also a Holland Mold design, except for the halo which is a Cybis addition and is very similar to their ‘Lady of Lourdes’ which is shown next. The Cybis version is signed in the correct format and color for the period. The Cybis design number was 223.
Here is the same piece in a much ‘frillier’ decoration, including more gold accents and a pink rose spray embellishment, but sans halo.
Our Lady of Lourdes ‘Healer of the Sick’ is a large piece (19.5”) that was produced only during the 1950s and offered in both white bisque and stained-glass decoration. She was priced at $55 for the white and $65 for the stained glass version throughout production. The basic piece is a Holland mold, with the Cybis addition of a solid halo and spray/branch of flowers and foliage on one side. The Holland mold version also has a secondary (lower) base element which the Cybis piece does not have. See When Is a Cybis Not a Cybis for a comparison of the two.
This is the original Madonna ‘Queen of Angels’ (unfortunately the later 1980s upsized replica looks identical; it is examined in the Later Madonnas post) which is approximately 11” tall including the base which is approximately 4.5” high. This means that the porcelain sculpture itself is actually 6.5” or 6.75”tall.
As clearly shown here, this is the 1950s Mother Most Admirable; the lower porcelain base mold was not used, a crown of flowers was added, and the resulting piece attached to a wood base. This was introduced in the mid-to-late 1950s with an issue price of $30.
The color version was produced starting in the mid-late 1950s and continued until 1970, which is roughly fifteen years. Her issue price of $40 rose to $90 at retirement. Note the slight difference between the first (blue eyes, solid white collar edge) and second (brown eyes, gold collar edge) examples. The vast majority of these appear to be the blue eyed version, however.
The all-white-bisque Queen of Angels is on a par with the Baby Owl for design longevity BUT with a difference: In the 1990s Cybis ‘upsized’ the original Queen of Angels so that the sculpture itself became 11” tall instead of this original 6.75” model. At the same time they issued a virtually identical sculpture under a different name; all this is covered in detail in the next post, including how to differentiate between the various iterations. In the meantime, it’s enough to know that if the sculpture measures 11” high including its wood base, it was cast from the original (1950s through probably early 1990s) design mold.
See the separate Queen of Angels post for three very interesting “crown oddities”!
The appealing Madonna ‘Mystical Rose’ was produced from the 1950s to the early/mid 1960s, in both white and color. She is 17” high, presumably including the low wooden base. She is a larger version of the Madonna in Prayer, with the addition of a crown of flowers. In 1963 this piece sold for $45 in white bisque and $55 in color.
This 1950s madonna bust was 7.25” high and is further profiled in the Holland Molds post. If she was given a name by Cybis it’s unknown at present but her design code was 245. This piece seems to have been made in both glazed and matte color versions; perhaps in plain white as well? It does not appear on Cybis’ 1963 price list which means production had ceased by that time. The second photo shows a version with the applied rose decoration seen on quite a few 1950s Cybis religious pieces.
Here are three examples of this bust, all from the 1950s and all produced by Cybis. It is very likely that this same mold was sold by both Holland Molds and Atlantic Molds, or that Holland at some point slightly changed its size. You can see that the central bust is slightly smaller, even though it is decorated exactly the same as the one at left.
The undersides of these three busts, from left to right: unmarked; stamped Cybis plus a painted-on design number 245; unstamped but with the penciled design number 245. The same size differential is shown in a trio of 1950s Jesus busts that are known to have been sold by both moldmaking companies at that time.
The Madonna with Bird on base, made in both white and color, is 11” high including base which is about 1.5” thick. She was another extremely popular madonna, introduced in 1956 (some sources say 1953) and retired in 1962. This piece was later re-released as replicas in 1989 and again in the 1990s as a Hall of Fame piece. Both are shown in the Later Madonnas post.
Update, February 2018: A real surprise this month was that although the “collector scuttlebut” has always been that this was designed by Laszlo Ispanky on a commission basis for Cybis before he came to work for them, at least two hobbyist versions have been discovered, one of which included a photo clearly showing that the mold was made and sold by Holland! So it appears that although Ispanky designed it, it was for Holland Mold Company rather than for Cybis. It is included by name in a 1980s Ispanky catalog but does not specify for whom he actually created it. A future post will compare more 1950s Cybis pieces with their Holland Mold “sources.”
There are four known versions of the House of Gold sculpture and it’s possible that there are even more! This madonna and child study was made between 1957 and 1965. It is 14” high overall if it is on the wood base, and 9” across. The photo above is the same version that is illustrated in the 1979 Cybis catalog; note the white dress and pink accents. According to the same catalog this piece was offered in plain white bisque at $75-$100, and in “color” at $175 all during its production run; however, that latter price is incorrect, because the 1963 price list shows the color version at $125. The one in the photograph above would have been the color version seen during the 1960s; I have not yet found a photo of a white bisque one.
An interesting bit of trivia is that the crown worn by this madonna was used 30 years later (in 1996) by Cybis as a small single-year promotional item for the short-lived Collectors Society. In that iteration it was produced in white bisque with gold accents. In addition, the head and torso of the madonna was used again in 1968 for a madonna bust issue shown in the Later Madonnas post.
This example is definitely one of the 1950s pieces because it was done in the the stained glass decoration. The colors are entirely different, it is not on a base, and she is not wearing a crown. It may have been part of the pre-1960 retail “color” production, or may be an early artist’s proof.
Although mounted on the usual base, this is possibly the most unusual example because of the rarely-seen gold skin, just like the standing but much simpler madonna and child shown earlier. That, and the stained glass finish, definitively date this to the 1950s. The lack of a crown brings the overall height to 13”.
Here we have another rare version, also from the 1950s: the House of Gold with Dove. The stained-glass colors may be the same as shown in the second example but this one is properly on its base and also includes a dove that has just landed on (or perhaps about to take flight from) Mary’s left knee. This actual sculpture was offered for sale by Armstrong’s in the early 1970s for $4000. The sculpture itself was designed by Harry Burger, a freelance artist who created several sculptures for Cybis including the famed 1970s Chess Set which was President Nixon’s gift of state from the USA to the USSR.
This photo appeared in the November 1978 issue of The Catholic Transcript and shows one of the more recent (as suggested by the crown) House of Gold examples being presented by the Knights of Columbus to Pope John Paul II. The crown appears to be the gold one but it’s impossible to guess the other colors from this black-and-white photo. It is unlikely that Boleslaw Cybis was actually a personal friend of the Pope (born Karol Wojtyla), given the 25-year difference in their ages and the entirely different locations in which they both lived before Cybis came to the USA in 1939. Except for a two-year stint in Rome, Wojtyla never left Poland before becoming Pope in 1978; and there is no indication that Boleslaw Cybis ever went back to Poland after 1939.
This is the Immaculate Heart of Mary bust, shown in the plainer and the more ornate (lace veil and rose) iterations. It is slightly more than 6.5″ high and was probably made as a pair with a matching Sacred Heart of Jesus bust, from commercial molds. Both busts were retired before 1963.
This full figure madonna with rose crown may also have had a companion full figure Jesus sculpture. She is about 10.5″-11″ high and is another pre-1963 retirement.
This full figure praying madonna with halo is 13″ high and has the almost-black early 1950s Cybis stamp as shown. This was definitely cast from a commercially available mold because it was still in use by hobbyists and other giftware companies, such as Goebel Hummel, even as late as the 1970s.
This madonna and child head/bust may well have been the smallest one Cybis made; it is barely 3.5″ high as shown. This example has a faint design code penciled on the underside that is difficult to decipher: Depending on the viewing angle is could be 214 or 219 or even, oddly enough, 261. It is possible that this is the “Madonna with Child (bust)” shown on a text-only list within the 1974 Cybis catalog. But then again, maybe not. It is quite possible that a version of this was made without the rose decoration also. It is also possible that this is a ‘tweaked’ version of the 4.5″ high madonna bust shown as the second item in this post. That would account for its smaller size as well. [Cybis design # uncertain, see text.]
This 3/4-figure madonna with infant is 8.75″ high and so is probably not the one referred to as “(bust)” in that 1970s Cybis list. This piece has a very nice use of both color and gold accents. The commercial mold from which this was cast did not include the halos, the rose decoration, or the lace trim; those were all Cybis additions. The studio also modified the baby’s hair, which in the original mold rather resembles a mass of Cheerios.
This is yet another 1950s piece whose name (if she was ever assigned one) we don’t know, although her Cybis design number was 293. She bears the typical stamped 1950s Cybis signature and is 7.75″ high overall. This pensive madonna bust has the additional distinction of having also been produced by the Boehm studio during the same time period.
Boehm used very few “bought” molds during their history but this was one of them, very likely from the Holland Mold Company. It’s uncertain whether Boehm named their version “Pieta Madonna” or “Our Lady of Grace” but it’s undeniably the same mold that Cybis also used, albeit with a few tweaks — notably the smoothing out of the gathers at the neckline to accommodate the lace and gold embellishments, and also the elimination of the folds at the top of her veil. It’s uncertain whether the original mold included the base section that Cybis used, or whether that was something they added on their own. It’s interesting to compare the very different looks of the rival studios’ treatment of the same mold at the same time.
There are other madonnas that were introduced during the 1950s and mentioned in Cybis in Retrospect and/or the 1979 Cybis catalog, but are not illustrated in either book. The taller ones could be either busts or torsos on a pedestal or base, or full figures.
Madonna ‘Spiritual Vessel’ from the 1950s to the early 1960s, 8” high, made in white bisque at $25 and color at $30. She was still being sold by Cybis in 1963 but disappeared before 1967.
Madonna ‘Queen of the Universe’, produced from the early 1950s to early 1960s, 13” high. It was offered in white bisque at $30, and color (possibly stained glass) at $45 in 1963, but disappeared before 1967. One of the oddities in the Queen of Angels post may in fact be this one.
Bust of Virgin Mary, 17” high, made only during the 1950s. It was available in white bisque and color; its companion piece was named Bust of Christ and was the same size. Sizewise these would be the same as the ‘Mirror’ pair from the same era, which invites speculation as to whether these also were on a wood base. During the decade, the retail price of the white version increased from $30 to $65, and the color version from $37.50 to $72.50.
There was a Madonna and Child, glazed decorated (possibly stained glass?) and 19.5” high, which also makes one wonder if it was on a base as well as whether it is a standing or sitting study.
Just to make things even more challenging, the 1974 Cybis catalog includes a single-page text list of verified sculptures, many of which probably date from the 1950s. If anyone recognizes any of the names and has images or information, there is a contact form below; I’d greatly appreciate being able to fill in the blanks. Likewise if you have photos of any Cybis madonnas that are not included in either of these overviews, and would like to add them to the “database” please let me know via the Direct Contact form on the About the Cybis Reference Archive page.
Lady of Grace
Madonna ‘Comforter of the Afflicted’
Mother of Divine Grace
Our Lady of Fatima
By the early 1960s the Cybis studio had moved completely away from the 1950s style of stained glass decoration for their retail introductions, and even in their special commissions for local churches – which were often glazed – the colors had become more muted. They also stopped utilizing commercially-available molds. The first numbered limited edition pieces appeared in 1960 but this new trend did not affect the madonnas.
The next post covers the Cybis madonnas that were introduced in 1960 and after.
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