Grand Centrtal Tour

March 17, 2012

The most notable feature of the Main Concourse is the great astronomical
mural, 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 paintlng 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.

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