Making a hole in the clouds
Aug 20, 2009
Thirty-seven feet above the main entrance to 30 Rock in Manhattan, which used to be called the RCA building, this guy with a crown and a big beard pushes aside the dark clouds of ignorance to let the sunshine in. His big golden compass promises architecture and all the arts--castles and cathedrals of human achievement. The quotation is biblical, from the book of Isaiah, but the man with the compass is from some other spiritual realm, where civilization included commerce between godlike humans and all-too-human gods.
Who is he? Where did he come from? The short answer is that he was copied from an eighteenth-century painting by William Blake, "The Ancient of Days." Blake presents this Ancient as a false little god, trying to build his own false little world with that big compass. The compass also brings Masonic mysticism into the picture.
What was Rockefeller thinking in 1933, when he adorned the entrance to his crowning public achievement with this strange image? Elsewhere in his new Center, he memorialized Prometheus, who defied the gods by supplying humanity with the fire of science and art, and he commissioned a bronze Atlas, the demigod who carried the world on his back as punishment for warring against the real gods.
Ignorant and learned people both have tussled with this stuff, so I'll stay out of it. I just like the imagery of somebody pushing those clouds apart, making a hole, piercing the gloom with brave new light.