Almost all of the Cybis ‘Portraits in Porcelain’ are readily identifiable characters from Shakespeare, mythology, literature, or history. However, there are two that defy specific identification; one is from the 1980s and the other from a decade or so later.
Sir Henry, the Knight was introduced in 1986 at $1500 as a limited edition of 350 sculptures. An early 1988 Cybis price list shows him at $2050. He is 16″ high and his final edition size (it may not have been fully completed) is unknown.
The main designer of this sculpture was Gertrude Fass, who with her husband was for twenty years a noted scriptwriter for such television series as Playhouse Four during the 1950s. She was also a teacher, an author of stories for children, and a freelance sculptress in porcelain and in bronze; she died in 2005 at the age of 95.
However, the fine production details of Sir Henry’s “chainmail” and shield were a collaborative effort by several of the in-house Cybis artists.
Collectors have often speculated about who this sculpture was intended to represent, because of the fact that he wears a crown. Some claim that he is Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt. The fact that the piece has acorns and autumn leaves on the base supports that argument; the battle occurred on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25th. And not only is he wearing a crown but also the royal lion of England on both his tunic and shield. The problem with this theory is that the sculpture’s name is and has always been “Sir Henry” … not Prince Henry or King Henry.
Another theory holds that this was meant to be the young Henry VIII whose love for dressing up in disguise at court masques was well documented. In the early years of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon he frequently jousted in her honor as “Sir Loyal Heart.” The Cybis piece does have a reddish brown beard corresponding to that of the real Henry (I once owned one, and in most the beard is a bit redder than appears in this photo) and in that particular scenario the combining of a “knight” and king would work. So is this a study of the young Henry VIII?
Alas, the answer turns out to be more prosaic than either theory. During a conversation in 2015 I asked Theresa Chorlton who Sir Henry was intended to be; she replied that he is “nobody in particular” and had absolutely no idea why he is wearing a crown or coronet over his helm!
The other mystery portrait is The Buccaneer, an edition of 750 that probably appeared sometime in the mid to late 1990s. He is 15″ high and was shown on the 2008 Cybis site at $2595.
There’s a bit more in the way of clues as to who he might be, or at least “when.” His clothing suggests the Elizabethan era (note the ruff, in a style popular during the 1560s) and possibly inspired by Sir John Hawkins or his sometimes-partner in piracy, Sir Francis Drake. From the sole picture above, he does more resemble Hawkins’ facial features as seen in contemporary portraits.
However, the word “buccaneer” didn’t really come into usage until almost 100 years after the time of Hawkins and Drake. The buccaneers were Caribbean pirates who made a habit of attacking Spanish merchant ships during the mid to late 1600s. The most famous of the English buccaneers (also known as “privateers”) was Sir Henry Morgan also happened to be an admiral in the Royal Navy. So is the Cybis buccaneer modeled after him? Nope, not in that costume or with that hair and beard, he isn’t.
So it appears that The Buccaneer shares the somewhat lonely distinction of Sir Henry the Knight, in that neither – unlike their fellow “portraits” – were meant to depict anyone in particular. They will just have to remain the Cybis “mystery men”!
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