No one gives a second glance to musty old Gen. Henry Havelock, hero of the 1857 India campaign.

Nor does anyone beside the pigeons have time for King George IV, posed on horseback, or Gen. Charles James Napier, who, according to the inscription, was born MDCCLXXXII and died LXXI years later in MDCCCLIII.

Even Lord Horatio Nelson is hardly noticed. He is so far above it all atop his 171-foot-high column that tourists in Trafalgar Square can't be sure it's actually him up there.

But the new statue of Alison Lapper on the northwest corner of London's most famous public space is a showstopper.

It is difficult to ignore the likeness of the nude, heavily pregnant and severely disabled Lapper, who was born with truncated legs and no arms.

Almost 12 feet high and sculpted from 13 tons of luminescent white Carrara marble, "Alison Lapper Pregnant," as the piece is titled, has drawn praise and scorn since its unveiling last month.

"It is a work about courage, beauty and defiance," declared London Mayor Ken Livingston at the unveiling ceremony.

But art critic Richard Dorment found it both "creepy" and "bland as a piece of soap."

The statue was commissioned by a public panel that has been given a 20-year mandate to make artistic use of Trafalgar Square's long unoccupied fourth plinth. The plinth was built in the 1840s to accommodate an equestrian statue, but none was erected.

The Lapper statue is the work of Marc Quinn, a 41-year-old British artist who gained some notoriety for a sculpture of his head made from nine pints of his own (frozen) blood.

Quinn has described Nelson's Column, the centerpiece of Trafalgar Square, as the "epitome of a phallic male moment" and said he thought the square "needed some femininity."

So he chose Lapper, 40, a photographer, artist and colleague whose story is as compelling as the massive statue.

Abandoned and institutionalized from infancy, Lapper began painting at a young age, using her feet and mouth to hold the brush. She has an honors degree in fine arts, and her work, which challenges conventional notions about beauty and normality, has been well received by critics and fellow artists. The son Lapper, a single mother, was carrying when she posed for Quinn is now 5.

Lapper and her son were present at the unveiling.

"I regard it as a modern tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood. It is so rare to see disability in everyday life, let alone naked, pregnant and proud," she said.

Asked how she felt about seeing herself in Trafalgar Square, alongside Nelson and other military heroes, she jokingly said, "At least I didn't get here by slaying people."

If the aim of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was to get the public to notice public art, it has succeeded beyond all expectations.

"The posture, the strength of the neck -- she looks like an empress; she looks like she's staring down the troops, or staring down the pigeons," said Jonathan Lane, 30, a London painter.

"She's very proud. She's proud because she's pregnant and she's proud because she exists exceptionally well despite her disability," added Lane, who spent some time on a recent afternoon gazing at the statue from several angles.

"But what do you think of a statue of a disabled woman in Trafalgar Square?" asked Samantha Hill, 28, a teacher from Liverpool and Lane's friend.

"Politically, I don't give a damn," Lane replied.

"Well, I must say I'm pleased to see that part of the population represented in such a public way," she said.

Stacy Ipcress, a 39-year-old photographer, said he, too, was struck by the sense of pride conveyed by the statue.

"The vibe I get is that she is not what you would call normal, but that she is proud of herself and that if anyone looks at her and thinks she's grotesque, it doesn't bother her," he said.

Rosie Edward, 35, pushing a baby stroller, paused to study the statue.

"It's perfect in terms of realism, but it feels a bit soulless, a bit cold," she said. "I like the way it confronts our expectations about motherhood and disability, but I think it should be in a more intimate place."

Many have complained that Trafalgar Square should be reserved for more traditional national heroes. Suggestions range from Margaret Thatcher, who turned 80 last week, to Vice Adm. Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson's second-in-command at Trafalgar. Or maybe something for the square's most numerous denizens: "Still say the empty plinth should have a giant stone pigeon," said Ian Grimley in a comment on the BBC's Web site.

The Lapper statue will occupy the plinth until April 2007, when it will be replaced by an abstract work by sculptor Thomas Schutte.

Titled "Hotel for the Birds," this piece should please the pigeons.

Marc Quinn's sculpture "Alison Lapper Pregnant" in London's Trafalgar Square.

Sculptor Marc Quinn, above, was inspired by Alison Lapper, who posed when she was eight months pregnant with son Parys, 5, below. "It is so rare to see disability in everyday life, let alone naked, pregnant and proud," she said.