The Museum's pediment in detail

The pediment above the Museum's South entrance was built in the 1850s. It is decorated with sculptures, which illustrate what nineteenth-century visitors would have found inside the Museum.

What is a pediment?

Pediments were a common feature in ancient Greek architecture.

They were usually triangle-shaped and sat on the top of buildings such as temples. They would be decorated with sculptures and reliefs, which reflected the purpose of the building.

Why does the Museum have
a pediment?

The core Museum building was designed by Robert Smirke in 1823 in Greek Revival style. This emulated the architecture of ancient Greece, and so the building has Greek features including the pediment and columns at the South entrance. 

The pediment at the Museum's South entrance

The pediment in detail

The sculptures in the pediment were designed by Sir Richard Westmacott. They follow the theme:
The Progress of Civilisation.

Man learns the basics (slides 13)
As you look at the pediment, the left hand side shows the creation of man as he emerges from a rock as an ignorant being. He meets the next character, the Angel of Religion who is holding a lamp. From this man learns basic skills, such as cultivating land and taming animals.

Expanding his knowledge (slides 47)
The next step in the progress of civilisation is for man to expand his knowledge and understanding. The next eight figures represent the subjects he must learn to do this. From left to right they are:

  • Architecture and sculpture (slide 4)
  • Painting and science (slide 5)
  • Geometry and drama (slide 6)
  • Music and poetry (slide 7)

These subjects were all covered in the Museum’s early collection and it was this knowledge which could help to educate man.

Educated man (slide 8)
The final human figure, on the right hand side, represents educated man. Having expanded his knowledge, man can now dominate the world around him.

The original pediment had a Wedgwood blue background and the statues were all painted white.