in the Public Realm
Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal
Thomas Tarangioli
Grand Central Terminal - Other Artworks
Thomas Tarangioli
End of the From Bryant Park to Grand Central Terminal Walking Tour
Thomas Tarangioli
Grand Central Terminal and Midtown
Carol Krinsky
Sites at this Tour Stop...

Grand Central Terminal

About this Tour Stop...

Head towards Grand Central Station. There you will encounter the Hercules, Mercurius, and Minerva sculptural group atop the station. If you are following along on our art map this should be labeled 64. Modeled on a Roman triumphal arch, the sculpture by French artist Jules-Alexis Coutan sits atop Grand Central Terminal's southern facade. You will see Mercury flanked by Minerva and Hercules. Minerva is the goddess of wisdom and represents all the thought and planning put into this building. Mercury is the god of speed and represents both the speed of commerce as it grew up into midtown Manhattan from the financial district and, of course, the speed of trains. The mythological hero, Hercules, represents the strength of the men who built Grand Central. Carved out of Indiana limestone, the group stands 50 feet high and 60 feet wide, weighs 1,500 tons, and surmounts a clock 13 feet in diameter. As you walk into the Main Concourse of Grand Central, the most notable feature is the great astronomical mural (56 on the art map), from a design by the French painter Paul Helleu, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil. Arching over the 80,000 square-foot Main Concourse, this extraordinary painting portrays the Mediterranean sky with October-to-March zodiac and 2,500 stars. The 60 largest stars mark the constellations and are illuminated with fiber optics, but used to be lit with 40 watt light bulbs that workers changed regularly by climbing above the ceiling and pulling the light bulbs out from above. Soon after the Terminal opened, it was noted that the section of the zodiac depicted by the mural was backwards. For several decades lively controversy raged over why this was so. Some of the explanations offered were that it just looked better, or it didn't fit into the ceiling any other way. The actual reason is that Paul Helleu took his inspiration from a medieval manuscript, published in an era when painters and cartographers depicted the heavens as they would have been seen from outside the celestial sphere.