A scale replica of HMS Victory - Lord Nelson's ship - in a bottle was unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square today.
British artist Yinka Shonibare's work is the latest in the rolling programme of contemporary art commissions for the plinth.
The model of HMS Victory, Admiral Horatio Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, is the first artwork on the site to link directly with Nelson's Column and reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square.
The ship's 37 large sails are made of the richly patterned textiles associated with African dress.
The artist said his work considers the legacy of British colonialism.
He said: "Nelson's Ship In A Bottle will be the first project on the Fourth Plinth to reflect specifically on the relationship between the birth of the British Empire and Britain's present-day multicultural context.
"For me it's a celebration of London's immense ethnic wealth, giving expression to and honouring the many cultures and ethnicities that are still breathing precious wind into the sails of the United Kingdom."
Nelson lost his life at the battle of Trafalgar, with a plaque on HMS Victory marking the spot where he fell.
He was brought back to England preserved in a coffin of brandy and subsequently buried in St Paul's Cathedral.
The sculpture, which is 15.4ft (4.7m) long and measures 7.7ft (2.35m) from the keel to the top of the main mast, will be on show for around 18 months.
The bottle, complete with giant cork, was made by aquarium specialists in Rome, using a new moulding technique.
Shonibare said of the unveiling: "I can't really describe my emotions. I've waited about two and a half years for this."
He added: "I think Nelson would be proud to see that his battle has had a significant effect on the lives of so many people. This piece celebrates the legacy of Nelson."
London Mayor Boris Johnson thanked Shonibare, who is of Nigerian descent, for "encapsulating so much history in this work of art" at a time when a poll showed that 15% of British 18 to 24-year- olds thought Oliver Cromwell led the British forces against the French and Spanish navies during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Mayor put his own interpretation on the work, saying: "This sculpture vividly and poetically hints at the central reason why Nelson was able on that magnificent day in 1805 to defeat the Franco-Spanish fleet despite having fewer ships, fewer guns and half as many men."
He added: "What did Nelson have in addition to the Nelson touch? He had a lot of bottle. It has taken an artist of Yinka's imagination to show quite how much bottle he had."
Peter Goodwin, the curator and keeper of HMS Victory, said of the work: "There were 22 nationalities on the ship, including Jamaican, Indian and even four French. The work encapsulates this as well as being one of our greatest national icons.
"I think it will help focus people's attention here in Trafalgar Square on the fact that we have the greatest admiral nearby."
He joked: "This small version of the ship (will), even though we can't get the big one back yet."
Lieutenant Commander John Scivier, the ex-captain of Victory, declared the model "absolutely wonderful (and) to scale".
"From the point of view of the ex-captain of Victory, it's wonderful to see the replica there in so much detail," he said.
The ship replaces Sir Keith Park's statue and, prior to that, Antony Gormley's One And Other, which invited a different person to stand on the plinth every hour for 24 hours a day.