Does this Midtown statue look like Mussolini?

Recognize this guy? It’s the Art Deco bronze statue of Atlas, the mythological Titan who held up the heavens.

He stands guard outside Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue, across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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.

Mussolini’s wasn’t the only visage some onlookers saw in the statue. “Others claimed the work resembled Christ when viewed from certain angles,” reports The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Volume 2.

[top photo from]

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9 Responses to “Does this Midtown statue look like Mussolini?”

  1. Goy boy Says:

    These people knew what Christ looked like? That is like the time my mother seriously said that the supreme being was a god and not a goddess, because all the paintings have God with a beard.

    Instead of worrying whether Atlas resembled Benito, I am surprised they were not concerned more with all the fascist symbols, even Nazi symbols like the swastika, that were used as decorative elements, particularly in the 1920s.

    For example, the base of the flagpole in Washington Square Park, has carved into it the most famous fascist symbol, a fasces, i.e., a bundle of sticks tied together, holding an axe in the center. (“In unity there is strength.”)
    Such fasces were common decorations. I was at a Broadway theater last week, that had an idealized fasces carved above the stage.
    Swastikas were often incorporated into design. E.g., the north and south wings of the GPO have swastikas in the pattern painted along the edge the ceilings.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Don’t forget the swastika earrings just yanked from store shelves in a Brooklyn accessories outlet:

    Some tenement floors have them too, part of the mosaic design.

  3. BrooksNYC Says:

    I have a large, antique Chinese painting of the Buddha, and in the center of his chest is a small swastika. (Unlike the Nazi symbol, the arms of this swastika rotate in a counterclockwise direction.)

  4. Joe Says:

    I worked in Rockefeller Center for six years, and never tired of exploring the complex and the surrounding area. One of the treasures of NYC.
    Question: Do you have pictures of all the quirky little shops down under the buildings? When I first started working there, 1994, I would wander around in the passage ways discovering small shops, it was like a hidden world.
    Thanks for all the postings, I love this site.

  5. petey Says:

    funny, it does look like mussolini.
    better neck though.

  6. Kaz Says:

    The swastika has been around for over two thousand years, and not until the Nazis used it has it had negative connotations. It was still used in decoration as a positive symbol of good luck, strength, and life in the pre-Hitler 20th century. Likewise, the fasces has been a symbol of power for a couple thousand years. Hence the use of these symbols in buildings throughout the city.

    It makes me sad that the terrible, inhuman actions of one group from modern times have rendered unusable an ancient symbol of positive things.

    By the way, regarding the Chinese painting of the Buddha: that ‘swastika’ would have been called a wan.

  7. RED DAVE Says:

    I think I know who actually posed for the statue. HIs last name was Bush and his first name was, I think, Al. He was a resident of Croton-on-Hudson when I went to high school there in the late 1950s.

  8. The Rockefeller Center that never came to be | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] development for the site. . . . Over the course of nine years, in the depth of the Depression, the building of Rockefeller Center would provide employment for 75,000 […]

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