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Central Portico Sculptures

The dominant sculptural ornament of the National Gallery’s central portico is a relief over its entrance, representing Europe and Asia. The continents are personified by two women, one of whom sits on a horse, the other on a camel. They are flanked by a pair of winged female draped figures, standing in niches either side of the entrance. None of these sculptures were originally intended for this setting.

The central sculpture was designed by John Nash in 1827, and carved by Charles Rossi. It was supposed to adorn London’s ceremonial entranceway, the Marble Arch, but was never put up when the arch was reduced in scale and ambition to save money. When it was discovered that the government was not willing to pay for elaborate external decorations on William Wilkins’ new National Gallery, it was decided to rehouse Europe and Asia on Trafalgar Square. The two female figures, sculpted by another British neoclassical sculptor, Edward Hodges Baily, were also originally designed by Nash for the Marble Arch.