Cybis Goes to Italy

Throughout the Cybis studio’s history, their advertising photos followed a familiar pattern: backgrounds were either solid or shaded color blends, and when they weren’t, ‘props’ had more than enough bokeh to avoid distracting from the porcelain subject. The common denominator was that they were done within the confines of a professional photographer’s studio – with one unique and notable exception: For the studio’s Spring 1981 Introductions marketing campaign, the sculptures went on a ‘road trip’ to Italy.

This single instance of a Cybis photo shoot taking place anywhere outside the United States was the brainchild of Anthony (‘Tony’) Trezza. Tony had been the studio’s Advertising Director since the late 1970s, first as their account executive at the Walter Spiro Agency in Philadelphia and later as an independent with Cybis as his own client. He was also a sculptor in his own right, and will be featured in an Artist Profile later this year. Tony pitched the idea of photographing each sculpture in front of iconic landmarks in Italy’s three major cities “on location” rather than simply using an enlarged photo of the places as an in-studio backdrop. It took a bit of convincing – after all, the cost of a European photo shoot is not in the same ballpark as one done in Philadelphia! – but Tony was a very convincing gentleman and he eventually won the day.

And so, in mid-October 1980, the ‘crew’ consisting of photographer Joe Bowman and his assistant, along with Tony Trezza and eleven freshly-minted Cybis sculptures (plus, I assume, a few spares in case of unforeseen accidents) boarded a plane for Italy. Let’s hop into our handy time machine and tag along with them!

(Each section will first show the final official Cybis advertising photo, taken by Joe Bowman, followed by photos taken either by Tony Trezza or – in photos that include Tony – by Joe’s assistant. I apologize in advance for the inferior quality of the finished images; my current scanner does a great job with text or actual photos, but leaves much to be desired when it has to deal with a printed-page image. These were scanned from the pages of the 1981 Cybis catalog.)

KATERI TEKAKWITHA at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest buildings in the world, begun during the time of Pope Julius in 1507. The frontage, seen behind Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks, was constructed about 100 years later. During the mid-1600s, Bernini took over the project and made it into the structure we see today. It is huge: more than 700 feet long and almost 450 feet high to the top of the dome. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Joe Bowman, taking some preliminary shots in a staging area off to one side. (Photo by Tony Trezza)

The shoot attracted much attention from passersby. Tony is seen here in the blue shirt; this photo was taken by Joe’s assistant, Harvey, whose last name I do know but if he ever reads this, please fill me in!
I hope that the local constabulary was also stopping merely out of curiosity, rather than to deliver the Italian version of “sorry, you can’t do that here.” (Photo by Tony Trezza)

This photo was taken by Tony Trezza during the shoot. I apologize for the cropping of the lowest portion of Tony’s on-location photos; for that, we can blame Facebook for putting a banner over the bottom part of the screen.

PUCK at the Trevi Fountain in Rome

The Trevi Fountain, beloved by tourists as well as classic movie fans, was built on the location of an ancient Roman fountain where three streets – in Latin, tre vie, three ways – converged. The idea of a newer and much larger fountain dates to the early 1600s; after 30 years of work, it was completed in 1762. Overall, the structure is more than 150 feet wide and 85 feet tall at its highest point. The central statue depicts the god Oceanus, seen here to the left of Puck. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Here in Tony Trezza’s photo, Puck cleverly takes Oceanus’ place as the central figure. The statue on the left represents Abundance, and the one on the right represents health. Two of the four statues on the pediment are also visible; they represent the products of the Earth that depend on water: fruits, grain, grapevines, and flowers. The fountain holds almost 80,000 gallons (300,000 liters) of water, and an average of 3000 euros in ‘tossed coins’ is gathered from it at the end of each day!

LITTLE JAMIE at the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome

The remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux are among those within the Roman Forum. It was built in the late 1st century B.C. as a replacement for an even older one which had been there for almost 500 years until the Emperor Augustus replaced it with a much larger temple in white marble. All that is now left of the more than 5000-square-foot structure is a single podium and these three columns, of the original nineteen that graced the exterior. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Joe Bowman, doing his usual excellent job of photo composition with Little Jamie, Boy with Chicks. (Photo by Tony Trezza)

Tony Trezza’s photo of Jamie, which I like much better than the cropped shot that appeared in the 1981 catalog!

ROSA ALBA at the Colosseum in Rome

This is Tony Trezza’s photo of Rosa Alba and the Colosseum because – for some reason – no official photo of this piece was included in the 1981 catalog, even though all of the other sculptures from this photo shoot were. I am sure that it must have been in the Spring 1981 brochure from Cybis, but that is one that I do not have (if anyone does and would like to share a scan, I’d be grateful.) I think Tony’s photo is wonderful, don’t you?

What we now call the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheatre when begun by the Emperor Vespasian in 72 A.D. and was the largest such building in the Roman Empire. Measuring about 620 x 513 feet, it could seat more than 50,000 people in its marble stands. The combination of time, weather depredations and vandalism has destroyed more than 2/3 of the original structure but it is still imposing enough to stir the imagination and admiration of anyone who beholds it.

CAROUSEL BEAR ‘BERNHARD’ at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

As our road trip continues on to Florence, we find the Carousel Bear ‘Bernhard’ enjoying a spectacular view of the city. The red dome on his right is the Cathedral, also known as the Duomo de Fiorenza, which was begun in 1296 and, when completed, was the largest cathedral dome in the world. The 525-ft-long church itself could hold 30,000 people. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Tony (left) and Joe, before moving Bernhard to another position on the railing. (Photo by Harvey.)

Tony Trezza’s photograph of Bernhard and the cityscape.

CAROUSEL BULL ‘PLUTUS’ in the Piazza del Signoria in Florence

Fans of the Medici series on Netflix, or of Renaissance history in general, will recognize the Piazza del Signoria within which is the Palazzo Vecchio, the Neptune Fountain (whose face is that of Cosimo Medici) and a copy of Michelangelo’s David which originally stood here and can be seen directly behind the, err, hindquarters of the Carousel Bull ‘Plutus’ in this photo. Fun fact: The statue was originally meant to sit atop the Duomo, but the powers that be (read: the Medici family) wanted it closer at hand. And, as anyone who knows anything about the Medici is aware, what they wanted…they got! (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Unfortunately, I do not have any additional on-site photos of Plutus in the Piazza.

MELODY at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novello in Florence

‘Novella’ means ‘new’, and this church is the ‘new church of St. Mary (Virgin Mary)’ because it replaced a ninth-century oratory called Santa Maria della Vigne (“of the vineyards.”) By the time this one was begun in 1278 (completed in 1470) the vineyards were long gone. Because it was designed by two brothers of the Dominican order, the round design in the middle of the pediment is the Dominican solar emblem. The shape is repeated in the central window and the designs on either side. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

This is Tony Trezza’s photo of Melody in front of Santa Maria Novello.

PERCY THE BLUE RIBBON PIG at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Our final stop in Florence finds Percy the Blue Ribbon Pig near the Ponte Vecchio, (‘old bridge’) which has quite a history. The original bridge was often damaged when the Arno River that it spans would flood, and so in 1365 it was rebuilt with segmental arches. Ever since that time, it has housed shops along its length. In the 1500s, Cosimo Medici decided that his family needed a more exclusive (safer) way to get from their Pitti Palace to the aforementioned Palazzo Vecchio on the other side of the river, so he had their own personal corridor added. When the Germans bombed Italy during WWII, this was the only Arno bridge that they did not destroy; the access points were obliterated but the main structure was left intact, due to the German consul of the city’s desire to preserve this historic landmark. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Percy and the Ponte, preserved on film by Tony Trezza.

ARIEL at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Salute in Venice

This church was founded in 1631 to commemorate the end of an outbreak of plague that had devastated the Venetian population for a year. Its name, Santa Maria del Salute, dedicates it to Our Lady of Health. The church took more than a half century to build and, although it does not show particularly well in the official Cybis image/scan, the dome of the church often appears to have a pale blue cast. Ariel, sitting atop his grasshopper, certainly looks as if he feels refreshed! This is another photo that I do not have another on-location photo of. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

COLUMBINE at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice

It is especially fitting that Columbine should be one of the models on this shoot, because she represents one of the main characters in Leoncavallo’s opera Il Pagliacci which is, of course, set in Italy (although in Calabria, not Venice, but we won’t quibble.) The original church that was built in honor of Saint Mark was destroyed in 976 but was replaced by this one. Construction of any large building in Venice encounters a huge problem with unstable ground, and so it’s impossible to create big impressive domes like those in Rome or Florence. The answer is to make a lightweight ‘faux’ dome of wood, to sit well above a much smaller and lower real domed ceiling inside the church! Some of the treasures inside St. Mark’s Basilica are eye-popping, such as the Pala d ’Oro, a gold altar screen decorated with 1300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts, and a varied assortment of rubies and topazes, just to make sure that nobody could ever call it plain.  Sadly, the church is still suffering the effects of a historic flood in 2019 that reached into the Basilica and caused significant damage. The bell tower seen over Columbine’s left shoulder is St. Mark’s Campanile. Gardeners will recognize the Latin species name Campanula, for the plants known as bellflowers. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

Although I have no other ‘road trip’ shot of Columbine, this view of the island site of the Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore was taken by Tony Trezza during the Venice leg of the shoot.

FROLLO, THE JUGGLER on the Ponte Piscina de Frezzaria in Venice

And how better to end our Cybis-in-Italy trip than among the canals of Venice? Although the official Cybis photo doesn’t show it, Tony’s photos pinpoint exactly where we are: the Ponte Piscina de Frezzaria. A rough translation would be the Bridge at the Pool (piscina) of Arrows (frezza = arrow), which makes sense if there were arrow-makers in this area back in the day! The term for a person who makes arrows is ‘fletcher’, from the French fleche (arrow), so it hits fairly near the mark (sorry, couldn’t resist.) There are more than 400 bridges in Venice, some public and some privately owned; some are made of Istrian stone, like this one, but others are of iron, steel, or even wood, as the original ones once were. There were no stone bridges in Venice before the 1300s. (Photo by Joe Bowman)

This photo, showing Tony, Joe, and Frollo the Juggler, is the one that gives the location. (photo by Harvey)

Joe, taking some measurements with his light meter as Tony looks on. I would not want to have been the one to have to balance or secure a porcelain figurine atop a rounded surface…and over water, no less. (photo by Harvey)

A precarious perch indeed. (Photo by Harvey)

Tony, up close and personal with Frollo. Notice the film canisters at the ready, along Tony’s camera strap; this was in the pre-digital days, when there was no such thing as bringing too many rolls of 35mm film. (photo by Harvey)

Now we must pack our virtual bags and Cybis sculptures, leave sunny Italy behind, and head back to the autumn chill of Trenton – with many thanks to Tony and Joe for envisioning and creating such a special Cybis road trip.

But sadly, both of our companions are no longer with us. Joe Bowman passed away in December 2017 at the age of 72. His obituary gives many details about his work, career, and how important he was to his community.

Tony Trezza passed away in September 2021 at age 98, after a long and fruitful career in both advertising and sculpture. I’m indebted to his daughter, June, who contacted me via this site and has shared so much about her father and his work; there will be more about Tony in a detailed Profile post here in the Cybis Archive. In the meantime, please enjoy his Blogspot site, which his daughter now maintains.

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