Italy at Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center includes reliefs by three different artists that honor Italy.

Youth Leading Industry

Above: Youth Leading Industry


Above: Italia

Italian Immigrants

Above: Italian Immigrants


Sculptures at Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, built in the 1930s, bore reliefs honoring Italy, England (Industries of the British Commonwealth, 1933), and France (Friendship of France and the United States, 1934). But Italy was Fascist at that point. When Atlas was unveiled in 1937, protesters claimed that it resembled Benito Mussolini. In the 1930s, that wasn’t far-fetched: the newspapers carried photos of Mussolini delivering his opinion on models of the proposed Italian Building at Rockefeller Center. Reliefs at the top of the completed building celebrated the great eras of Italy: the Roman Empire , the Renaissance, Unification … and Fascism.

The two enormous glass reliefs by Attilio Piccirilli were also perceived as Fascist. Youth and Industry is still in place at 636 Fifth Avenue. Probably because it included slogans as well as an image ( "Arte e lavoro, lavoro e arte"), the companion relief, Sempre Avanti Eterna Giovinezza ("Advance Forward, Eternal Youth") was boarded over within days of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the United States entered World War II. See an image of it here, third photo down. The building was for some time called "International Building South" rather than "Palazzo d'Italia."

In the 1960s, it was replaced with this much more sedate relief of grapevines and wheat (wine! pasta!). Italian Immigrants was originally directly below the Italia relief.

Mother and child

On first glancing at this relief, I assumed it was a mother frolicking with her child. The official Rockefeller Center website has a more depressing take:

This bas-relief is a poignant work depicting a weary barefoot mother and her naked child, the fundamental nature of poverty. She represents the Italian woman who, after the war and the loss of so many Italian men and homes, left Italy to seek new beginnings in America. Manzu is quoted as saying, “It is the immigrant’s search for two principal things—drinking and eating.” Here he captures universal human despair combined with a modicum of hope.

Looking at the relief again, I'm not sure if the expressions on the face of mother and child are distress, or just so roughly executed that it's impossible to pin down the meaning. I certainly couldn't have guessed what Manzu says he meant from the details in the relief.


Giacomo Manzu (born Giacomo Manzoni, 1908-1991) earned fame for creating sculptural bronze doors for religious buildings, including a set for St. Peter's in the Vatican. He was also in demand for creating portraits of Roman Catholic clergy.

Further reading