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 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.
The first version was the Holy Child of Prague which is 22″ high; it 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.
A retail edition of 25 was issued in 1956 (the year before Boleslaw Cybis died) 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. Adjusted for inflation, the sculpture’s price would be about $13,000 today. The issue size was subsequently reduced, and only 10 were made before the studio closed the edition at $5000 (the equivalent of almost $27,000 nowadays.) The exact year of closure is uncertain, because although it appears on their 1963 price list as an available sculpture, their 1967 price list cites it as “edition complete” despite the fact that their 1978 catalog says it was completed in 1973. The most likely explanation is that Cybis stopped taking dealer orders for it sometime between 1963 and 1967 but did not physically make the final sculpture 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, the 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.”
From the 1979 Cybis catalog:
Since the Child is traditionally dressed in priceless garments of silk, brocade, embroidery and lace, time consuming processes and exhaustive experimentation were involved in the sculpture’s creation. The delicate transparency of silk was achieved by actually ‘shaving’ the porcelain to rosepetal thickness. Everything is of porcelain – the delicate blue satin ribbon threaded through the lace-embroidered neckline, the silken folds of the gown. 24 karat gold coin helps to create the brilliant brocade of the cape…..When the final exquisitely sculptured figure was complete, inspection found a tiny flaw. This was left as an obeisance to the traditions of those early Masters who flawed their work to identify it as an original.
The sculpture was a result of the collaboration of two Cybis designers: Marylin Chorlton and Patricia Eakins. 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 Chlorlton by the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1969, he commented that the statue was finished just at the very last moment. He also reiterated 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 the catalog text claiming 24k gold)
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.” An artist’s proof of the piece is in the vestibule chapel of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Trenton, New Jersey. 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 it’s a moot point at this late date, 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. On the 1967 list declaring the edition complete, no design number is given. In their 1978 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!
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.
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; it appears on a 1995/96 Cybis price list at $6500.
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