Verrazzano sailed into what's now known as New York Harbor on April 17, 1524. Here's part of his report to his sponsors.
This section is excerpted from Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (OMOM).
Verrazzano has a swashbuckling, arrogant appeal. Of heroic size (the bust is five feet tall), he holds his right arm akimbo while his left hand grips the cape sweeping down from his armor. The lower edge of the cape, which originally curved around the base and linked him more closely to the allegorical figure below, was lopped off when the statue's crumbling pedestal was replaced in 1951.
His face, turned alertly to one side, displays the features recorded in contemporary portraits of Verrazzano: Roman nose (the sort that goes from forehead to tip without a dent at eye level), heavy but well-groomed beard and mustache.
In front of the bust stands an allegorical figure. This one is more difficult to interpret than the Statue of Liberty (OMOM #1), because the symbols used are not as familiar and also because it's been vandalized. Her upraised left hand once held a torch, representing knowledge or enlightenment, as in Liberty. Propped against her leg is a book bearing the dates 1524 and 1909, a reminder of history—the year Verrazzano sailed into the harbor, and the year the statue was dedicated.
The sword with which she pierces the book represents the sharp wits needed to see history clearly. (The same symbolism appears on a relief on Ward's Pilgrim in Central Park.) Combine these elements and this woman seems intended to represent the true facts of history: a recognition of what really happened so many centuries ago.
The inscriptions on the pedestal support that interpretation, although since they're in Italian, it's a rare viewer who understands them. On the west side, the inscription runs,
On the east side:
Charging Bull, OMOM #5.)Given this combination of figures and inscriptions, the Verrazzano is not merely a sculpture. It's a polemic. The literal subject is Verrazzano and his allegorical sidekick, but the theme—the message the artist is conveying to us, as viewers—is that Verrazzano deserves the credit for the discovery of New York Harbor. (For more on the theme or meaning of a sculpture, see
Why was that even an issue? In 1909 New York was honoring Henry Hudson, the Englishman in Dutch pay who in 1609 became the first European to sail up the Hudson River. New York's substantial Italian-American community was offended that the celebrations ignored Verrazzano, the first European to sail into New York Harbor and to see the Hudson River. The editor of a prominent Italian newspaper led the drive to raise money for this statue to commemorate Verrazzano's voyage. On the back of the pedestal, an inscription reads:
IN 1951, the original elaborately detailed, light-colored base (which was deteriorating and had been vandalized) was replaced with this block of dark granite. The lower end of Verrazzano's cape was lopped off. Last I heard, the cape had been restored and the figures cleaned. They're in storage until construction work is completed on the subways running under Battery Park.
More on Verrazzano and this sculpture is in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide and the Monuments of Manhattan app by Guides Who Know.