updated 5/5/2008 3:41:07 PM ET 2008-05-05T19:41:07

NEW YORK — Atlas, Rockefeller Center's iconic statue of Greek mythology's burdened giant, is set to get its most thorough cleaning in decades, starting next week.

The four-story-tall, seven-ton sculpture is among the complex's cherished attractions. It stands across Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick's Fifth Cathedral.

Wax and lacquer have built up and dulled the bronze statue's surface since it was installed in 1937.

EverGreene Painting Studios expects to spend six weeks cleaning the artwork with steam and solvents, applying a protective coating and hand-waxing it.

The results should accent the play of highlights and shadows across the statue's surface, said EverGreene President Jeffrey Greene. The statue was washed and waxed regularly through at least the late 1980s, but Greene believes the upcoming cleaning may be its most extensive restoration.

Rockefeller Center's statue of Atlas' brother, Prometheus, was refurbished nine years ago.

Condemned to hold up the heavens
"What we try to do is keep track of the artwork and what needs tending to," said Jerry I. Speyer, the chief executive of Rockefeller Center owner Tishman Speyer Properties. "It's a fascinating piece of what nobody sees but what you really have to do if you're going to be a fiduciary for a place like that."

According to ancient Greek lore, Atlas and fellow Titans battled Zeus for control of the universe, and lost. As a punishment, Atlas was condemned to hold up the heavens forever. He is often depicted, as in Rockefeller Center, carrying a globe on his shoulders.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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