Among the unexpected odds and ends that appeared in the 2019 liquidation auctions of most of the backstock of the Cybis studio was a small piece that I’d not seen mentioned in any of their advertising: a representation of the tablet(s) said to have been brought by Moses from the mountaintop. They are variously referred to as the Tablets of The Law, Tables of The Law, or simply as The Ten Commandments.
The Cybis item shows the tablet mounted (no doubt with glue) to a wedge-shaped polished-wood block. It was one of four items in the auction lot – the others being two figures of Saint Peter and a bust of Pope John Paul II – and although no dimensions were provided, we can make a guess at them via comparison to other items that it was photographed next to. Overall, it is probably between 5.5” and 6” high and perhaps four inches wide. This gives a rough estimate of the porcelain tablet’s size as about 3.75” high and perhaps 3.25″ wide.
The tablet itself is familiar, because it is a component of Cybis’ limited edition Moses ‘The Great Lawgiver’, produced from 1963 to 1970. The sculpture is 20″ high overall, including the wood base upon which it is mounted.
Because the tablet is a separate mold that was attached to his left hand and/or chest with glue or ‘slip’, we do occasionally see sculptures where it has become detached…such as the example in this photograph.
However, the face of (inscription on) the Moses sculpture’s tablet is not the same as the one seen in the liquidation-auction lot.
What the 2019 item’s mold does match, however, is the plaque shown in the hand of the 1981 limited-edition Moses Plaque.
The tablet on the Moses Plaque is a separate mold. The size of the porcelain plaque (unframed) is 16” high and 12” wide; if you zoom a photo of the plaque to those actual dimensions, the 2019 item’s estimated width of about 3.25” fits right in with the one on the plaque.
This also means that the plaque Moses’ left arm is also a separate mold. This can be clearly seen in the zoomed plaque photo; it’s somewhat awkwardly attached. In fact, this is the actual arm mold from the 1960s Moses sculpture but with the finger positions re-worked. This was do-able because the size of the sculpture and the size of the porcelain plaque itself are close enough for the proportions to be comparable. The studio took two mold components from the 1960s sculpture (the left arm and the tablet) and modified both slightly (the fingers, and the face of the tablet) for use on the 1981 plaque.
So what does the stand-alone tablet face actually say? I do not read Hebrew and so had to resort to Google, where I learned that the Hebrew alphabet is written from right to left, and found this chart:
I could not find most of the Cybis plaque’s characters on Google, except for the one that looks like a Y (Ayin) and Sheen written backwards(?). Is the character that resembles pi supposed to be Cheth? Is the character that looks rather like a flag supposed to be Vav? I came up completely empty regarding the character that seems to be a wishbone shape, and have no clue what the diacritical marks (if that’s what they are) mean. Any better attempts at a translation would be most welcome; there is a contact-form link below.
Of course, it’s possible that the marks on this later piece mean nothing but are only there for artistic effect.
I do wonder if this separately-mounted Tablet of Law was created as a promotional piece when the Moses Plaque was introduced in 1981; given the plaque’s issue price of $4500, that would be understandable. The plaque’s original declared edition size was 50, but was slashed to 25 the following year, either because of production problems or lack of buyer interest. And because of a lack of price lists in the mid-1980s, all I know is that the plaque edition was either completed or closed early (IMHO the most likely) before 1988.
It would be interesting to know whether either of the Cybis-made ‘Tablets of Law’ actually do say anything in Hebrew, however!
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