The Greek mythological figure of Atlas holding up the heavens is a 1937 sculpture by Lee Lawrie (1877-1963) that stands in front of the International Building of Rockefeller Center, across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Many people have thought that the Atlas sculpture too closely resembled Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1883-1945). Rene Paul Chambellan (1893-1955) helped Lawrie with the sculpture and might have modeled for some early sketches. Italian heavyweight boxer Nunzio Pontorno, who participated in New York’s Golden Gloves fights in 1933, is believed to have been the model who Lawrie used, although the Mussolini rumors never completely died.
Wikipedia: Atlas (statue)
Atlas is a bronze statue in front of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, New York City, across Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The sculpture depicts the Ancient Greek Titan Atlas holding the heavens. It was created by sculptor Lee Lawrie with the help of Rene Paul Chambellan, and it was installed in 1937.
The sculpture is in the Art Deco style, as is the entire Rockefeller Center. Atlas in the sculpture is 15 feet (4.6 m) tall, while the entire statue is 45 feet (14 m) tall, as high as a four-story building. It weighs 7 tonnes (7,000 kg), and is the largest sculpture at Rockefeller Center. The North-South axis of the armillary sphere on his shoulders points towards the North Star as seen from New York City.
When Atlas was unveiled in 1937, some people protested, claiming that it looked like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Later, painter James Montgomery Flagg said that Atlas “looks too much as Mussolini thinks he looks.”
The piece has since been appropriated as a symbol of the Objectivist movement and has been associated with Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged (1957).
Wikipedia: Rene Paul Chambellan
Rene Paul Chambellan (September 15, 1893 – November 29, 1955) was an American sculptor who specialized in architectural sculpture. He was also one of the foremost practitioners of what was then called the “French Modern Style” and has subsequently been labeled Zig-Zag Moderne, or Art Deco. He also frequently designed in the Greco Deco style.
Ken Kaminesky Photography
Atlas Statue in front of Rockefeller Center in New York City
Atlas is a bronze statue (Nunzio Pontorno was the model) in front of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, New York City, across Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The sculpture depicts the Ancient Greek Titan Atlas holding the heavens. It was created by sculptor Lee Lawrie with the help of Rene Paul Chambellan, and it was installed in 1937.
Ephemeral New York
Does this Midtown statue look like Mussolini?
January 12, 2012
When the statue was unveiled in 1937, some New Yorkers thought they recognized a different face: Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator.
Naturally this didn’t go over well in the late 1930s. An outcry ensued, and a protest was held.
“The artists, Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan, insisted no such tribute was made, and the issue was eventually forgotten,” wrote Brad Dunn and Daniel Hood in New York: The Unknown City.