Atlas and Prometheus Sculptures

Even if you’ve never been to Rockefeller Center, there’s a good chance that you are familiar with two of its most famous residents, Atlas and Prometheus. The two giant bronze sculptures are iconic symbols of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s world-famous Art Deco complex. The shining gold Prometheus lounges in front of the ice skating rink in the Sunken Plaza, while Atlas kneels in front of the International Building at 630 5th Ave. While these two works of art are easily recognizable, you might now know that much about them. Let’s uncover their secrets!

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1. They are brothers

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In Greek mythology, Atlas and Prometheus are both Titans and the sons of Lapetus and Oceanid Asia (or Clymene). In legend, they were both punished by Zeus for sharing knowledge with humanity. Atlas shared knowledge of astronomy which was used for navigation and Prometheus gave knowledge of fire. As penance, Zeus condemned Atlas to carry the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. To punish Prometheus, Zeus nailed him to a mountain in the Caucasus and sent an eagle to forever peck at his regenerating liver. Zeus also unleashed Pandora and her box of troubles into the world.

In artistic depictions, including their sculptural forms at Rockefeller Center, the brothers are depicted as strong and defiant as they endure their eternal punishments. A zodiac ring that can be found around both statues is a visual cue that ties them together. These depictions at Rockefeller Center are meant to indirectly represent John D. Rockefeller Jr., a “Titan” of industry who took on the task of building Rockefeller Center for the good of the city and its people.