She’s the Vermeer of villains.
Courtroom sketch artist Jane Rosenberg has been at the trials of the century, meticulously capturing the likes of Anthony Weiner, Bernie Madoff and Bill Cosby throughout her 40 years on the job. She snaps pictures of her work outside the downtown Manhattan courts — cameras in the courtrooms are a no-no in federal cases — and sends off sketches to appear on nightly newscasts and the next day’s papers.
But before she was the most in-demand sketch artist in the city — “I have thousands of sketches!” — Rosenberg, now 70, got her start drawing portraits on the streets of Provincetown, Mass. “I was a starving artist, worried about spending 25 cents on a bagel,” she told The Post. After attending a lecture given by Marilyn Church, a veteran courtroom artist, at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan, she decided to try her hand at the high-pressure gig. “I went to court, I practiced, I put together a portfolio. I asked the court officers a lot of questions. I was going to night court sketching prostitutes at 100 Centre St.”
Her first big break was during the “Murder at the Met” trial of Craig Crimmins in 1980, where she scored a seat with fellow artists in the jury box. “I came home with my sketch and called the new startup company, CNN, to see if they wanted it.” CNN declined, but a cold call to NBC landed Rosenberg’s sketch on the evening news. “I went home and watched it on my little black-and-white TV and called my parents.”
Not long after, she sketched Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin, holding a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” which he read from during his sentencing hearing in August 1981.
“That was one of my earliest sketches,” she said. “I was always a nervous wreck in the early days. I think I had a knot in my stomach every single day I went to court. I never thought I was going to be able to do it or pull it off.”
These days, she lives on the Upper West Side and produces oil paintings when she’s not racing downtown to draw a defendant at an arraignment or sentencing. “I watch people’s lives unravel in front of me,” said Rosenberg, noting that, in her free time, she prefers to paint “happy scenes.”
But when an editor calls to tell her a famous face has been arrested, she’s got her kit at the ready: her portfolio, ink pens, a “starvation kit” stocked with protein bars and water bottles, a homemade wooden box of pastels and binoculars, in case her view is less-than.
The admittedly “self-critical” mother of one said that certain faces present a challenge. “Some people have more subtlety to their face, and they don’t have anything that really stands out,” while other mugs, such as that of Bernie Madoff, are easier to capture. “He had that nose, and certain features I could grab onto to make the likeness good,” said Rosenberg.
She had a tougher time with Tom Brady. Patriots fans went wild over an unflattering sketch she did of the quarterback during the “Deflategate” scandal.
Sometimes, it’s the subjects themselves who critique her work.
“John Gotti wanted his double chin removed,” said Rosenberg. Another common complaint: “People always want more hair. I get that all the time.”
News junkies and art aficionados can judge for themselves at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan US Courthouse, at 500 Pearl St. in lower Manhattan, where a selection of Rosenberg’s work is on display, alongside that of other courtroom artists.
Here, she discusses drawing some of the most notorious murderers, schemers, pervs and drug lords she’s encountered over the past four decades:
“I was two hours out of the city [when] I got this call,” said Rosenberg, who drove, along with her criminal defense attorney husband, to Bannon’s arraignment hearing after his August arrest for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. (Bannon pleaded not guilty and will face trial in the spring.) It’s one of the few in-person gigs she’s had since the pandemic hit. “We weren’t sure until the last minute whether Bannon would appear in person or not,” said Rosenberg, who sketched from a video screen in a grand jury courtroom that Bannon was broadcasted to from elsewhere in the building. “He wore a mask, and was so sunburned and red, like a turnip.”
This was her second go at drawing off a screen: “I did Ghislaine Maxwell like that. It was so blurry, I could barely see a mouth or make out eyeballs. It was not ideal.”
“He seemed a little dazed and confused as to where he was,” Rosenberg said of the disgraced Hollywood producer, who was later convicted of first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. In one of her sketches, she captured him being escorted into the chambers. “He walked so close to me, and the way the light hit his belly, that came toward me first because his arms were pulled back,” she said.
She was able to squeeze in another sketch when Weinstein stood in front of the judge. “Somehow it went viral,” she said. “Even though cameras were in, people went crazy over that sketch.”
To get a spot inside Brooklyn federal court for the trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, which was crowded with foreign press, Rosenberg camped outside starting at 4:30 a.m. Still, she caught a lucky break once court was in session.
“El Chapo’s wife sat behind me — he was always turning around to see her — so I could see him all the time,” said Rosenberg, who recalled Emma Coronel Aispuro’s glamorous outfits. “They waved to each other and blew kisses every single day.”
The Brooklyn-born rapper, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, is not only easy to spot, but also to sketch. “He was the most tattooed person I have ever drawn,” said Rosenberg of the felon. His tattoos were especially visible in his short-sleeved prison uniform as he issued an apology to a victim he had shot in the foot.
“I had to use my binoculars to see that there were 69’s all over his arms and on his face, too,” said Rosenberg. “He was very apologetic, and his biological father was seated behind him, who I also drew.”
Unlike El Chapo, Rosenberg said that financier and accused sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whom she drew looking pensive in spectacles and a blue uniform — ”He could’ve been anyone” — didn’t have any family in the courtroom.
“There wasn’t a trial,” said Rosenberg. “So it was just a few hearings before he killed himself, or didn’t kill himself,” she said.
Rosenberg adds that she is careful not to play jury in her drawings. “I have to hear the facts before I make a judgement on how I would vote,” said Rosenberg, who followed the Epstein case through news reports and documentaries: “He’s totally a sicko, weirdo.”
Omar Abdel Rahman
“He was so easy to draw,” said Rosenberg of the “The Blind Sheikh,” as he was known at the time, who was sentenced to life without parole for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The terrorist had a few calling cards: “He wore a red cap, and he had sunglasses and . . . a giant beard,” said Rosenberg. “Everybody always knew it was him.”
Rosenberg occasionally travels to other cities for her work, as she did for the trial of the Boston Bomber, where she sat in one of two overflow rooms for a “front-view wide shot” of the action via video feed.
One day, she got a call from the government. “They told me I was going to be taken to see the boat that Ttsarnaev was shot up in with a few other artists and reporters the next morning. We were picked up at 7 a.m. from a secret spot,” said Rosenberg, who called the “exciting” field trip “one of the highlights of my career.”
New York Post
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