The dumpy caryatids of Euston

St Pancras Church on London’s Euston Road was built in 1819-22, primarily to serve the nearby area of posh Bloomsbury. The church is neoclassical in design, taking as its inspiration the Athenian monuments the Erechtheion and the Tower of the Winds. The total cost of the building – including land and furnishings – was £76,679, making it the most expensive church to be built in London since the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The main feature of the building is the glorious ‘caryatid porch’, pictured. These four beautiful ‘handmaidens’ guard the entrance to the church’s crypt. Looking at them, you could be forgiven for thinking they lack the slender grace of traditional Greek caryatids, including the one from the Erechtheion which has been in the British Museum since 1803. It’s because they do.

Their sculptor was one Charles Rossi. You can imagine his alarm when the day came to erect his creations in place only to find that they were way too tall. Eek! After what I’m sure was a bit of a panic, Rossi decided the only way to save face was to give the ladies a little trim. In a rather extreme precursor to liposuction, he cut inches out of each maiden’s midriff and carefully cemented them back together. Good save, Charles! This left us with four slightly not-to-scale caryatids but that doesn’t detract from one of London’s most beautiful buildings.

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