Before the advent of architectural modernism’s sleeker, less ornamental styles, architects commonly adorned the tops of buildings with human statues, particularly on municipal buildings. If you pause to glance up as you walk around New York, you might even catch a random statue — especially in lower Manhattan. Many of these statues originated during the early 20th century when the City Beautiful movement boomed. Here are a few statues that remain and, as expected with any art form, some modern twists on an old tradition.
1. Famous figures atop the Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State, 35 E. 25th Street.
The collection of nine figures perched on the roof’s edge of the Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State represents history’s greatest legal thinkers. The figures include Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster, King Alfred the Great, Saint Louis, Manu, Lycurgus, Solon, and Justinian. A tenth statue depicting Lady Justice sits above the building entrance. Each of the nine statues was sculpted by a different artist, and the sculptors’ names are as impressive as their subjects. Among them are Daniel Chester French and Edward Clarke Potter who created the iconic New York Public Library lions.
When the courthouse was originally built in the 1890s, the collection included a statue of Mohammad, the founder of Islam. However, in 1955, the statue was removed at the request of the Egyptian, Pakistani and Indonesian governments because Islamic law prohibits images of the prophet. The statue has been lost to time.