Man and Woman flanking Prometheus


Mystery Sculptures at Rockefeller Plaza

Here's a test of your habits of observation. You're standing at Rockefeller Center, looking down at Prometheus, who's overseeing either ice skaters or diners at the Sea Grill restaurant, depending on the season. To each side of the steps leading down into the plaza is a bronze sculpture of substantial size. Can you remember what they look like? I've given you a minute to think about it by putting the photos later in this essay rather than the beginning.

In the course of researching Prometheus and other Rockefeller Center sculptures for Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, I discovered that these two figures were originally gilt, and stood on ledges to either side of Prometheus. They represent the human race, to whom Prometheus (according to Greek legend) brought the gift of fire. The inscription above Prometheus, from Aeschylus, reads, "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends."

Within a year after the figures were set in place, sculptor Paul Manship decided that they were out of proportion to Prometheus.They were hauled up to the roof of the Italian Building. Fifty years later, cleaned but not regilded, they were moved to their present locations.

The sunken plaza that Prometheus floats above was always intended as a focal point for Rockefeller Center, but the Christmas tree behind it and the skating rink for which it is most famous were both serendipitous experiments, intended to increase foot traffic to the Center's stores during the Greatly Depressed 1930s.

Woman with Prometheus

Man with Prometheus

Further Eating