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. In addition, 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 in 1973 at $5000 (the equivalent of almost $27,000 nowadays.) 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.
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. This is very likely the one that was presented by the Knights of Columbus in Washington D.C. to Pope Paul II during his tour of the USA that year.
The retail edition of the Holy Child of Prague Plaque appeared in 1981 as an edition of 25. The 1981 Cybis catalog shows it as having been completed in that same year, and the 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″. 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. The retail pricing of the plaque is unknown because the 1981 catalog did not furnish that information.
Cybis’ final version of the Infant of Prague was the Hall of Fame replica which they named Holy Child of Prague II, which is their usual naming format for those 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 is unknown but it currently appears on the Cybis site for $9975.
Other religious-themed Cybis studies (including the two nativity sets) can be found at the Religious//Biblical Category link.
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