Since May 23, 1911, Patience and Fortitude have flanked either side of the steps leading into one of the most stunning Beaux Arts building in New York City, the New York Public Library. They are statues of lions, yet for over 100 years, people have been personifying them.

Sculptor Edward Clark Potter created them as part of a pride—a number of male and female lions, much like a pack of wolves. (The Piccirilli Brothers did the actual carving of the marble.)  Potter also sculpted the two female lions at the Morgan Library, on 36th Street and Madison Avenue. Here’s where one might recall these lions and lionesses are not actually alive.

Library of Congress NYPL opening dayPhoto from Library of Congress

The lions were “born” in the Bronx and first dubbed Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after John Jacob Astor and James Lenox, who founded the library.  At one point, Fortitude became temporarily female, so called Lady Astor and her brother, Lord Lenox. During the Great Depression, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia changed their names once and for all to Patience and Fortitude. Patience lounges on the south side of the steps. Fortitude to the north.

When these handsome marble jungle kings took their place in front of the library, the public reacted harshly, slaying their features with a variety of pithy insults. According to various New York Times articles and letters to the editor, the lions were too stern, hairy, Sphinx-like, squash-faced, mealy-mouthed and complacent. Future sculptors attempted to appease the public, even trimming the manes of these fierce statues.

By their teenage years, ironically, the brother lions were finally accepted and understood. They had become, together, a symbol of New York. They have Galas, charitable organizations, books, blogs etc. named after them. John Guare wrote the play ‘A Day for Surprises‘ which brings one of the lions to life to devour a lady librarian. Nathan Sawaya created Lego versions for their 100th anniversary in 2011. Although they were created from Tennessee marble, they might be the most alive inanimate objects in NYC.

Illustration by David Cessac

“Patience and Fortitude conquer all things.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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