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. Let’s start off with a bit of an anomaly.
Because it’s always been assumed that Cybis did not produce any religious sculptures under the Cordey imprint, I was surprised to find this possibly-Cordey madonna with halo which sold on eBay about six years ago. It is unusual because of the halo which has heretofore not been found on this madonna, and that the piece may have been marked Cordey. The seller’s description said “vintage 7 ½” Cybis signed porcelain madonna, made by Cordey China Co” but frustratingly there is only this one extant photo! Does the madonna have both the Cordey and Cybis names on the underside? If so, that would be very unusual but not totally unheard of because I have found a trinket box with that combination (shown in Signatures and Marks); and if this madonna only says Cybis, whatever would have prompted the seller to add ‘made by Cordey China Co’ to the description of this piece? In any case it it is definitely from the early 1950s. See also the Cybis-signed version of the same piece, though sans halo, below. (Holland Mold)
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. 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. (Holland Mold)
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 two busts – closed eyes, pensive look, slightly tilted head – but the shoulders are missing. However, the front rose and wide lace veil echo the second example shown previously. The paint and glazing 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. (apparantly an adaptation of the Holland mold)
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.
Here is the same madonna bust seen in the very first image but this time with a base added. 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.
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/design number (2020) 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 termed “bisque color” or “bisque decorated” by Cybis. 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. The underside of this colorway still shows the design number which is 2020; the “W” appended to the previous example was probably a notation to the painters to leave the bust plain. By the way, only some of the 1950s pieces retained their penciled design numbers after production and none of the post-1960 pieces have them.
Here are the three color versions shown together, and also illustrating the variations possible in the underside markings.
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.
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. Her secondary market value in the 1970s was approximately $950. 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. 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.
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.
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. It appears that the base was integral to the piece, as seen in the Queen of Angels precursor. The bust itself was always plain white bisque while the base section would have been glazed dark brown to resemble wood. It is 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.
Similar in style to the foregoing, Mirror of Justice was only produced during the 1950s. 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 at $5500 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.
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.
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.
The appealing Madonna ‘Mystical Rose’ was produced from the 1950s to the early 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.
This 1950s madonna bust with blue veil was 7.25” high and is further profiled in the Holland Molds post. It seems logical to assume that, since Holland produced this mold as one of a pair with an accompanying Jesus bust, Cybis may have done so also but thus far I haven’t found either a reference to or photo of it. If she (or they) were given a name by Cybis it’s unknown at present. It seems to have been made in both glazed and matte bisque color versions; perhaps in white as well?
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.
February 2018 update: 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! The retail version shown above was made between 1957 and 1965. It is 14” high overall if it is on the wood base, and 9” across. This is the same version that is illustrated in the 1979 Cybis catalog, which also states that a House of Gold in “stained glass and old coin gold decoration” was presented to Pope John Paul II by the Knights of Columbus in October 1978 as an official gift. This would have been a piece from the Cybis archives because the sculpture had already been retired from retail sale. The piece shown in the photo is in the standard retail bisque decorated (not ‘stained glass’) color. Note the white dress and pink accents. According to the same catalog it was offered in plain white bisque at $75-$100, and in “color” at $175 all during its production run. The one in the photograph would have been the color version seen during the 1960s; I have not yet found a photo of a white 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 is an Immaculate Heart of Mary bust, which I have seen both with and without a rose decorating the lower section. It is slightly more than 6.5″ high and was possibly made as a pair with a matching Sacred Heart of Jesus bust. This pair, like the blue-veiled madonna shown earlier, were no doubt commercial molds.
This full figure madonna with rose crown may also have had a companion full figure Jesus sculpture. She is about 10.5″-11″ high.
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.
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. It’s unknown whether they were busts or full-figures but judging from the examples already known, the likelihood is that the two smaller ones are probably busts. The taller ones could be either busts 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.
Madonna ‘Queen of the Universe’ bust, 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.
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.
Byzantine Madonna (could this be the unusual bust shown above?)
Lady of Grace
Madonna ‘Comforter of the Afflicted’
Madonna with Child (bust)
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 issued in 1960 and later.
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