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.
Cybis produced five different Child/Infant of Prague representations, but not all of them were original designs. The first two retail items were produced from molds that Cybis purchased wholesale, cast, and added their own painting and decorations. One of the four molds was used for two separate Cybis editions. This may sound a bit confusing, so I will break the designs down chronologically.
The first two Child of Prague figures were sold during the early to mid 1950s, and differ in size as well their molds.
The larger one is 11″ high overall, is glazed, and was assigned design/production #247. Because we have no idea what Cybis may have called these two, I’m calling this one the Infant of Prague with Lace Collar (larger). Both the dipped lace and the gold decoration match the typical Cordey figures of the late 40s-early 50s.
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 (1) The smaller ruffle at the neckline has been replaced by a rose; (2) the lace trimming the sleeve cuffs hangs down rather than being upright; (3) the crown’s bottom band is white with gold accents rather than solidly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.
The smaller Cybis offering was about 7″ or 8″ tall and was cast from an entirely different mold. I am calling this one the Infant of Prague with Lace Collar (smaller), for obvious reasons. One thing I have noticed while researching this mold is that hobbyist examples found for sale online seem to be prone to the head breaking off where the neck joins the shoulders, and this one is no exception; the brown material at the neck is oxidized glue where the head was glued back on. Many also have the two raised fingers of the figure’s right hand broken off, as this one also does. This seems to have been the nature of the beast with this particular mold. Every representation of the this iconic Catholic figure shows the child with the first three fingers of his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing; it is the accepted traditional pose. This example also has visible crazing on the front of the robe.
Based on the known prices of other Cybis religious figures from the same time period, these two probably retailed for around $3-$4 and $7-$8, respectively. The next two Holy Child of Prague designs that came out of the Cybis studio were very different, and in another quality league entirely.
The third (and first truly original) Cybis Holy Child of Prague was commissioned 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 Eakin. 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.)
Thanks to a helpful Archive reader, I am able to add photographs of one of the retail edition pieces. This one has lived in a protective glass case in a gallery environment for many years.
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!
Ironically, the official Cybis studio photo of this piece does not accurately represent what they made and sold, because the photo was accidentally ‘flipped’ – and nobody ever caught the error! The Cybis photo shows him holding the orb in his right hand and raising his left, when in reality he must always have the orb in his left hand and the blessing gesture made with his right hand.
These photos provide a very good view of the detail work on this piece.
One of these sculptures was part of the Cybis display at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. This is the info-card that was available near the display. It is a grammatical horror show that makes me wonder if whoever wrote the text was not a native English speaker. “Premiere” [the first show or episode of a series] is wrong, and should be premier [meaning among the best of its kind]; and “variable” should instead be variety. “The media” [meaning print, movies, or television] should be the medium [the use of a specific material]; “the filigree of lace” should be filigree lace; and even the final few words are incorrect. It should be either “…is a Limited Edition of…” or “is offered in a Limited Edition of..”
At approximately the same time (mid to late 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. 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. This was the fourth version of the Child of Prague that the Cybis studio made for retail sale. The first two (from commercial molds) were glazed and were made in large quantities. The third and fourth were original Cybis designs and were produced only in bisque (unglazed) porcelain.
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 head mold from 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. Obviously this was a representation of their limited-edition piece, but done as a dimensional plaque instead. I suspect that this one of a kind item was done as a special commission, either for a church or a gift to a Catholic personage of note.
A 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″ x 23″. 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 the retail editions is the framing. The viewable area of the plaque is about 12″ wide by 16″ high.
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 followed 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. The issue price of this edition was $5975. 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.
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. For such a high asking price, one would have expected very high quality workmanship in all areas.
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