Paul Howard Manship (December 24, 1885 – January 28, 1966) was an American sculptor. He consistently created mythological pieces in a classical style, and was a major force in the Art Deco movement. He is well known for his large public commissions, including the iconic Prometheus in Rockefeller Center. He is also credited for designing the modern rendition of New York City’s official seal.

The grounds of the Palais des Nations (seat of the United Nations Office at Geneva) contain many fine objects donated by Member States. The Celestial Sphere (also known as the Armillary Sphere) in the Ariana Park of the Palais des Nations is the best-known of these. The huge – over four meter diameter – Celestial Sphere is the chef d’oeuvre of the American sculptor Paul Manship. It was donated by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to what was then the League of Nations building. Known also as the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Sphere of the Palais des Nations it is today a symbol of Geneva International and of Geneva as the centre of dialogue and peace.

The Sphere is supported upon the backs of four tortoises, taken from his models for the gates to the New York Bronx Zoo, which in turn rest upon a stepped socle bearing a cast representation of the Chinese “celestial sea” (Hai Shui Jiang Ya). The tortoises may therefore be thought to represent the Chinese tortoise of immortality (Ao) – an auspicious symbol from Tang times on. Other Zodiac signs come from the world’s major civilizations, both past and present.

Manship described this sphere in the following words:

“The representation of the heavenly constellations is derived from Babylonia and Assyria: the Greeks and Latins added their names and gave the constellations a local significance in some cases and I have adhered as closely as possible to the ancient forms. Thus the star, Aldebaran, which represents the eye of Taurus, dictates the character of the design, as is also the case of Regulus, Leo’s Heart, and so with all the constellations. The forms and attitudes of the figures have been made to correspond firstly with the positions and the meanings of the emblems themselves. After that the inter-relationship of the constellations was designed to create a harmonious ensemble”.

The installation of the sphere took place in September 1939. There was no ceremony, no celebration: it was the beginning of the Second World War. Here there is an excerpt from the Wilson Foundation about this inauguration:

“A total silence, a complete solitude; the great ceremony foreseen at the time of the Twentieth Assembly would not take place. Only a few visitors who passed by, and a handful of Americans, particularly interested, watched how the Italians install the great sphere, symbol of universal harmony, in the place of honor”.

Today the Celestial Sphere stands in the Palais des Nations. It serves as a vivid reminder that despite all cultural and religious differences we are inhabitants of one and the same planet of the galaxy, the earth. The time has come to think in terms of Pax Universalis rather than of other Paxes, and one of the contributors to a Pax Universalis is an action-oriented dialogue, based on common human values and the ideals of the United Nations.

Source: Paz sin Fronteras