The first sculpture erected in Central Park was of a man who never set foot in America, and whom few visitors to the Park will recognize. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was born in 1759 in Germany. In his dramas, the main characters hold their values – such as honor, liberty, love - so passionately that they are willing to fight and die for them. Even those in the audience who didn’t value what Schiller’s heroes valued were drawn into his stories and inspired by the dedication and integrity of his characters.
Schiller’s 19th-century fan club included Beethoven, who used Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” as the text for the final movement of the Ninth Symphony. Donizetti and Rossini each based an opera on a Schiller play. Verdi based no fewer than 5 operas on Schiller’s works. During his lifetime and today, no German playwright was more famous than Schiller.
Olmsted and Vaux felt that sculptures altered the pastoral vibe they were trying to create in the park. Ordered by the Board of Commissioners to find a place for the sculpture, Olmsted tucked it away in the Ramble. Only in 1955 was it moved to its present site, near Schiller’s compatriot Beethoven.