Given the Cybis Studio’s roots in Eastern Europe it isn’t surprising that they produced several iterations of the famed 16th century statue long associated with the city of Prague, Czech Republic (although it is said to have originally been made in Spain.)
The original statue dating from the mid 1500s is 19″ high, carved from wood that was then coated with wax. The infant’s right hand is raised in a blessing gesture with two fingers raised, while his left hand holds an imperial orb. The crown is noticeably large in proportion to the head. The statue has a “wardrobe” of almost 50 different robes, and has been displayed in the Discalced Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious (in Prague) since 1741.
The original Cybis Holy Child of Prague was commissioned (designed for) the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., whose basilica houses the largest collection of contemporary religious art in the world. The sculpture is on permanent display in the Lower Crypt Church of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, where it is identified as the “Infant Jesus of Prague.” The porcelain base appears white, and it appears to sit on a lower base made of wood.
An artist’s proof of this piece is in the vestibule chapel of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Trenton, New Jersey.
The sculpture was a result of the collaboration of two Cybis designers: Marylin Chorlton and Patricia Eakins. It was not designed by Boleslaw or Marja Cybis. Because there was an unveiling date scheduled for the sculpture in Washington, the studio had to meet a firm deadline despite a number of unexpected setbacks. During an interview with studio director Joseph Chorlton by the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1969, he commented that the statue was finished just at the very last moment. He also said that for the ‘silk’ parts of the garments, the porcelain “is so thin you can read through it. For the cape, the crown and on many parts of this statue 18-carat gold was used.” (This contradicts a circa-1970s Cybis catalog text claiming 24k gold decoration.)
In addition to the one for the National Shrine, and the one (or more?) artist’s proofs, Cybis created four retail porcelain interpretations of the statue: a limited edition figure, a limited edition plaque, a limited edition replica figure, and an open edition figure. They are shown below in chronological order.
[This is the official Cybis photo that appeared in their advertising literature, depicting one of the pieces produced for retail. It is not a photo of the piece made for the National Shrine, although the Cybis caption was confusing in that regard.]
A retail edition of 25 was issued in 1956 (the year before Boleslaw Cybis died) as Holy Child of Prague at a price of $1500 each. This was a significant amount in those days; to put it in context, the average American worker’s income then was not quite $4500. The issue size was later reduced, and only 10 were made before the studio closed the edition at $5000; they stopped taking any orders for it in the mid-1960s, but the final piece was not finished until 1973.
It makes sense that each one would have taken an inordinately long time to create. According to a 1979 newspaper interview with Ida Julian, public relations director at Cybis, the porcelain garment “has seven different layers, each one very thin and delicate, and when the artists started working with it, they found the layers constantly broke or wouldn’t stay in place for firing, so we had to cut back the issue from 25 to only 10.” The NY Times reported in a 1975 interview with the Chorltons that one of the ten retail pieces had recently brought $43,000 at an auction, although I have not been able to find any other reference to that event.
Although it’s a moot point now, there’s also a discrepancy in the design number Cybis reported for this piece. On their 1963 price list, which may have been the first one they issued, it’s shown as design #2500. In their 1978-79 catalog appendix it’s shown as design #250. If I someday obtain a copy of their 1964, 1965, or 1966 price lists the question will be resolved on a “two out of three” basis!
Update, June 2020: Thanks to a helpful Archive reader, I am now able to add some photographs of one of the retail edition pieces. This one has lived in a protective glass case in a gallery environment for many years.
You will immediately notice that the hands are reversed in this photo compared to the official Cybis-literature one! That is because the official Cybis photograph was (either accidentally or deliberately) ‘flipped’ horizontally before printing. This is the second such instance of image-flipping that I have found in Cybis literature. This photo is what the sculpture actually looks like.
These photos provide a very good view of the detail work on this piece.
At approximately the same time (1950s) the studio also issued an open edition Miniature Infant of Prague which is just about 7 1/2″ high overall. It was offered in two colorways: plain white bisque until the early 1960s for $30 and the color version above until 1970, from $40 initially to $75 at retirement. These may have had only the Cybis signature (with or without the copyright stamp), with no mold impressions. It’s interesting to note that the crown on this version is actually the most similar to the original 16th century statue in terms of proportion to the child’s head; in the other Cybis versions, the crown does not appear quite as oversized.
Another 1950s representation was recently discovered. It is 11″ high overall, and was not an original Cybis design; it was cast from a commercially available mold. In order to avoid confusion with the larger versions or the “miniature” one, I’m calling this the Infant of Prague with Lace Collar. Both the dipped lace and the gold decoration match the typical Cordey figures of the late 40s-early 50s. This piece was given design #247.
Examples have been found with slight differences in the ornamentation and paintwork.
This one differs in four respects from the first example. (1) The smaller ruffle at the neckline has been replaced by a rose; (2) the lace trimming the sleeve cuffs hangs down rather than being upright; (3) the crown’s bottom band is white with gold accents rather than solidly painted gold; and (4) the inside of his robe is painted pink.
I can’t resist including this Boleslaw Cybis mixed-media oddity which — for lack of any official name — I’m calling the Infant of Prague in a Tree. I’m not sure what he was trying to convey here, but it can’t be denied that the piece in the center is the Miniature Infant of Prague. This one of a kind piece is 14″ high. Additional views can be found in the 1940s Papka and Porcelain post.
The 1979 Cybis catalog Appendix includes a line entry for a one of a kind “Holy Child of Prague (plaque)” measuring 20″x24″ as a Commemorative piece with a declared issue of only one in 1979.
The retail edition of the Holy Child of Prague Plaque appeared in the Fall 1980 Cybis price list as an edition of 25 at $4500. The 1981 Cybis catalog shows it as having been completed in that same year, and its size as 19″x23″. The 1981 catalog photo shows the same frame as the example above, so it appears as though the only difference between the one of a kind and retail editions was the framing. The viewable area of the plaque is about 12″ wide by 16″ high; one source cited the framed measurement as 19.75″ x 23.75″.
An artist’s proof of the plaque was presented by the Knights of Columbus in Washington D.C. to Pope Paul II during his 1977 tour of the USA, according to the 1981 Cybis brochure that introduced this retail edition.
This plaque is contemporaneous with the Moses plaque shown in the Old Testament post. Both are the same size, are trimmed in red, and have very similar frames. The jewel tone enameling on both plaques were done by George Ivers, the studio’s Art Director at the time.
Cybis’ final version of the Infant of Prague was the Hall of Fame replica which they initially named the “Golden Anniversary Replica” but later changed to Holy Child of Prague II, which became their usual naming format for HOF issues. A limited edition of 50, it was issued in 1989 and thus any that were actually produced during that year will have the special 50th Anniversary stamp located on an non-gilded area of the back of the base. This is a downsized replica of the original piece’s mold, being 16.75″ high (the original is 22″) and about 7.5″ at the widest point.
I must confess that I am surprised at the inconsistency of the quality of detail work on this piece. Although some areas (such as the robe detail painting shown above) are done well, the crown is particularly disappointing. Compare the workmanship above to the crowns seen on 1960s and 1970s sculptures such as Lady Macbeth, King Arthur, and the madonna ‘House of Gold’, and this one appears heavy-handed at best! The initial issue price of this edition was $5000. I have seen only one of these appear for sale online in recent years, and it did not sell during the time that it was listed.
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