Quote of the Day

More damage was done to the Parthenon in 1801-2 than in the previous 2,200 years.

Melina Mercouri, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

The reunification of the Elgin Marbles & other disputed artefacts

The Parthenon Sculptures (also called Parthenon Marbles or Elgin Marbles) are split between several museums. Despite numerous similar cases of contested ownership of cultural property, few loan or return requests are successful. Elginism aims to raise awareness by publicising the issue & cataloguing news on it, as well as working in conjunction with various campaigns including Marbles Reunited, & the IARPS.
To track the latest news updates, you can also follow Elginism on Twitter or Facebook.

February 5, 2016

Do museums keep too many items in storage

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

A common claim made by museums is that restitution of artefacts would lead to gaps in their collection. They like to leave the impression that is the Parthenon Marbles went back to Greece, then the Duveen gallery would end up just lying empty, with nothing of interest to fill it.

As I have noted before though, the reality could not be further from the truth. The British Museum only has 1% of its items on display at any one time.

This article looks at various other examples, such as the fact that 108 Picasso paintings are not on permanent display in any museum, compared to 139 that are. This means that 44% of his works held by museums can not be viewed by casual visitors unless they are part of a special temporary exhibition.

Museums are not private collections – they get various tax benefits & government grants because of this fact. Surely their purpose is to display items for the benefit of the public – not to put it in storage?

It is worth looking at the original article, for the extensive graphs that it has to back up its case.

Alte Mühle, (1916) Egon Schiele. None of his works are on public display in museums

Alte Mühle, (1916) Egon Schiele. None of his works are on public display in museums

From:
Quartz

Museums are keeping a ton of the world’s most famous art locked away in storage
Christopher Groskopf
January 20, 2016

Most of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work is in storage.

Nearly half of Pablo Picasso’s oil paintings are put away.

Not a single Egon Schiele drawing is on display.

Since the advent of public galleries in the 17th century, museums have amassed huge collections of art for society’s benefit. But just a tiny fraction of that art is actually open for people to view and enjoy—including, it turns out, many works that are considered masterpieces. The dynamic raises questions about who actually benefits when museums collect so much of the world’s best art.
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February 1, 2016

Satellite images show ISIS destroyed Iraq’s oldest monastery

Posted at 2:01 pm in Similar cases

Iraq’s oldest Christian Monastery has been destroyed by ISIS, according to analysis of recent satellite photos of the area.

St Elijah’s monastery in Mosul had been used as a place of worship for 1,400 years.

US Soldiers celebrate Easter Mass at St Elijah’s monastery in 2010

US Soldiers celebrate Easter Mass at St Elijah’s monastery in 2010

From:
Guardian

Isis has destroyed Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, satellite images confirm
Associated Press
Wednesday 20 January 2016 12.16 GMT

New satellite photos confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to rubble, yet another victim of Islamic State’s relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers heretical.

St Elijah’s monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for US troops. In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel and worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved near the entrance.
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January 28, 2016

Is not knowing an artefact was Nazi loot an excuse to retain it?

Posted at 2:47 pm in Similar cases

The Musée des beaux-arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland has been in the news recently, for their refusal to return a Constable painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of the rightful owner.

The excuse given by the museum is that they did not know that they purchased the item in good faith. Further to this, they also argue that as a neutral power in the Second World War, their history is unencumbered by the holocaust.

Neither of these reasons holds much credibility for me though. If the legitimacy of a purchase is merely down to good faith, then surely this leads us down a route where nobody asks awkward questions when making a purchase. Even if the due diligence process was thorough, this should not be an acceptable excuse. although perhaps there is an argument that some compromise could be made – either between the museum and the rightful owners, or potentially the governments of countries that expect their institutions to be able to do the right thing. There is no precedent for the second argument – that Switzerland had no involvement in the situation that led to the looting. Britain was actively fighting against the Nazis during the Second World War, arguably giving it a stronger claim to this than Switzerland, but various institutions have already made restitutions in similar cases and the right to do this is enshrined in law by the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act.

Despite all the above though, what this article skips over, is that the Holocaust is not a special case in this regard. Museums should make far wider examinations of provenance and their justifications for ownership. The Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum are just some of the many other cases currently outside of the legal frameworks that allow for the return of Nazi loot, meaning that the institutions that hold them feel little need to argue a case, as they know that there is no legal way for the items to be deaccessioned from their collections at present.

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

From:
Guardian

Why a Swiss gallery should return its looted Nazi art out of simple decency
Jonathan Jones
Wednesday 27 January 2016

Memory has many colours. A work of art that survives the centuries is an embodiment of history, marked invisibly by all the hands that have held it. Who owned it? Where did it hang? These are not just arcane questions for scholars but the network of human experience that haunts works of art in museums and makes them richly alive.

The hunt for works of art looted by the Nazis matters. Researchers who discover the true owners of a painting stolen in wartime Europe and later acquired innocently or knowingly by a museum or gallery are piecing together shadowy stories of oppression, injustice, murder and destruction. Why did the Nazis loot art from Jewish owners? It was not only greedbut an ideological belief that Jews contributed nothing to European civilisation and did not deserve to share in it.
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January 27, 2016

Time to fight back against terrorists destroying cultural heritage

Posted at 2:12 pm in Similar cases

In the face of increased ISIS attacks against the ancient heritage of the areas that they occupy, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova outlines the three ways that she believes the world must fight back against such acts.

  1. Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects coming from Iraq and Syria
  2. Reinforce preventive actions
  3. Strengthen international cooperation
The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

From:
World Economic Forum

Terrorists are destroying our cultural heritage. It’s time to fight back
Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO
Monday 18 January 2016

At this very moment, the invaluable legacy of humanity’s common heritage is under attack in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Heritage sites are destroyed and looted to finance terrorism, individuals are persecuted on religious and cultural grounds, cultural diversity is targeted.

The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares.
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Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasure to Italy

Posted at 2:02 pm in Similar cases

Its great to see that Switzerland is finally doing something to clear up the murky world of artefacts smuggled via the Free Port in Geneva.

An Etruscan sarcophagus is among stolen ancient artworks that Switzerland has returned to Italy

An Etruscan sarcophagus is among stolen ancient artworks that Switzerland has returned to Italy

From:
The Local (Switzerland)

Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasures to Italy
Published: 14 Jan 2016 16:18 GMT+01:00

Switzerland has returned to Italy 45 boxes of ancient Etruscan art stolen during illegal excavations and stashed away for more than 15 years, including two rare sarcophaguses, authorities said on Thursday.

“The antiques were given back to Italian authorities today,” a statement from Geneva’s public prosecutor’s office said.
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Osborne makes crass Parthenon Marbles quip to Varoufakis

Posted at 7:55 am in Elgin Marbles

Those in the UK who are opposed to the return of the Parthenon Sculptures (I think we can make a safe guess that this is the camp that George Osborne sees himself in), never seem to see it as a serious issue. More often than not, any questions about the sculptures are brushed aside with a quick joke – nine times out of ten, referring to someone having lost their marbles.

It might have been vaguely amusing the fist time – but its not like the quip has not been made thousands of times before. Further to this, campaigners have also pointed out such remarks stigmatise mental health issues.

Perhaps the lack of concern for the Parthenon Marbles stems from the fact that knowledge of them amongst many people is in fact fairly limited. They hope that distracting discussions with a joke hides their own ignorance.

UK Chancellor George Osborne

UK Chancellor George Osborne

From:
Independent

Yanis Varoufakis and George Osborne exchange blows over the Elgin Marbles
Jon Stone
Tuesday 19 January 2016

Yanis Varoufakis has hit out at George Osborne after the Chancellor made a joke about a contentious marble sculpture taken from Greece to Britain in the 19th century

During an exchange with shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the House of Commons Mr Osborne referenced the fact that Mr Varoufakis would be speaking at a series of events organised by Labour.

“Today he says he is going to tour the country with former Greek finance minister Mr Varoufakis to educate us all about economics. The one thing they’ve got in common is they’ve both lost their marbles,” the chancellor said.
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January 26, 2016

Could House of Lords push UK to ratify 1954 Hague Convention

Posted at 1:56 pm in Similar cases

As I wrote last time the 1954 Hague Convention came up in the news, I’m not holding my breath on this one. Its been talked about so much, but with very littel sign of actual action.

Recent events in Syria & Iraq have helped focus people’s minds on the issue though, although the looting of Iraq over ten years ago ought to have been enough for Parliament to see the benefits of ratifying the convention.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords

From:
Art Newspaper

Lords put pressure on UK government to sign Hague Convention this year
by Anny Shaw
21 January 2016

Members of the House of Lords and leading cultural heritage experts are again calling on the government to ratify the Hague Convention seven months after it agreed to sign the international agreement. If parliament swiftly ratifies the treaty’s two protocols before any of the other five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UK will also be in a position to set up a headquarters in London for the Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross.

During a debate in the House of Lords on 14 January, Baroness Andrews said there was a “growing sense of urgency” to sign the convention following “grotesque failures in Iraq” and “the increasing barbarity in Syria”. She added: “The events of the past six months have, I believe, changed the game.”
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December 10, 2015

Has Greece dropped Parthenon Marbles legal action plans?

Posted at 2:12 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Greek Politics is always intriguing to an outsider. I am whether there is any substance to this decision to strike legal action off the list of possible options for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, or whether there is a sensible basis behind it.

No doubt, in due course, more will be revealed, but I feel that it is a great shame to write off methods of retrieving the sculptures, that have yet to be fully explored, while planning to repeat other methods that have been tried before and failed.

This is not the first time that such a statement has been made & then retracted.

We are now 3 culture ministers removed from the one who originally commissioned the report – yet still no closer to developing a coherent strategy for dealing with the issue.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition)

NEWS 08.12.2015 : 21:12
Greek gov’t changes course on Parthenon Marbles

Greece is no longer mulling court action to win back the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum in London, Culture Minister Aristides Baltas said Tuesday, adding that the government would kick-start a diplomatic campaign to repatriate the 5th century BC statues.

Questioned by MPs during a session of Parliament’s education committee, Baltas said that the government was unwilling to put forward a legal claim “most importantly because we risk losing the case.”
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November 13, 2015

See Greek Geordie comedian George Zach in London

Posted at 4:44 pm in Elgin Marbles, Events

I wrote a few months ago about George Zach AKA Greek Geordie. He’s a comedian based in the UK, but originally from Greece, whose routine includes a great section about the Parthenon Marbles.

He is performing in London on 15th and 16th November at the Museum of Comedy.

Visit their website to order tickets & find out more details.

From:
Museum of Comedy

George Zach – Greek Tragedy
Comedy – 15 Nov, 16 Nov at Museum of Comedy

George is a Greek comedian living in the UK. Has appeared in all of the biggest clubs in the UK, as well as on BBC1’s This Week (twice) and The One Show.

In the UK his mates say he’s too Greek, but he’s not Greek enough for his parents abroad; he’s trying to fit in in a world he believes to be more stupid than him. Also, he is dodging his national service.
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August 13, 2015

UK lawyers deliver Parthenon Marbles legal opinion to Greece

Posted at 1:06 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Despite assertions made in many new sources in May, it was generally left unreported, that the legal team from Doughty Street Chambers (Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney) along with Norman Palmer had in fact not delivered their final report to Greece.

This document has now been completed and delivered to Greece. Hopefully it will be given full consideration by the government, possibly leading to a new policy announcement later in the year. I look forward to hearing more in due course about the detail of what has been proposed and any recommendations made.

Amal Alamuddin & Geoffrey Robertson

Amal Alamuddin & Geoffrey Robertson

From:
Doughty Street Chambers

Legal opinion on status of Parthenon Marbles delivered to Greece
04.08.15 | Amal Clooney, Geoffrey Robertson QC

Yesterday, The Greek Ministry of Culture confirmed that it received the legal opinion of Geoffrey Robertson QC, Norman Palmer QC and Amal Clooney regarding the Parthenon Sculptures in the possession of the British Museum.

It should be noted that between 13-15 May various news outlets including the Daily Mail the New York Times, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, the BBC, and the Daily Beast published stories falsely asserting that Mrs Clooney and her colleagues had delivered a 150-page joint legal report earlier that week advising the Greek Government to take legal action and that this advice was expressly rejected by the Greek government. Certain articles even purported to quote the legal advice from the alleged 150-page report.
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August 10, 2015

Wifi access on the Acropolis

Posted at 1:02 pm in Acropolis

People who are visiting the Acropolis in Athens in an accademic capacity, will now be able to access a Wifi network up there.

It remains to be seen how good the coverage is, and in these days of 3G and reduced intra-EU roaming charges, its less vital than it once was, but still a welcome development nonetheless.

Entrance path to the Acropolis

Entrance path to the Acropolis

From:
Greek Reporter

Acropolis Visitors Get Wi-Fi Access
By Anastassios Adamopoulos –
Aug 6, 2015

The ancient Athenian site just got an important contemporary update to its environment.

Professors, researchers and students of educational institutions around the world will now have access to the internet upon their visits to the Acropolis. The new option is available thanks to a global roaming access service for members of educational institutions called Eduroam.
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June 21, 2015

UK to ratify 1954 Hague Convention on Cultural Property

Posted at 9:40 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

I’m not holding my breath on this one, as it is not the first time that I have heard this, but the UK Minister of Culture John Whittingdale says that the UK will introduce legislation to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

For many years now, various excuses have been given for not ratifying the treaty, despite pressure from archaeologists, NGOs and many within Parliament.

The current status, although not correctly reported in many news sources, is that the UK signed the convention in 1954, but has yet to ratify it. This groups us with Ireland, Andora and the Phillipines, ass all other countries that signed were also happy to ratify it.

The current impetus to finally ratify this document is no doubt related to the press coverage of the actions of ISIS in Syria and Northen Iraq. One wonders though why the looting following the deposing of Saddam Hussein in the second Gulf War (or many other similar cases prior to that) was not enough to convince the UK of the importance of the document.

It is a step in the right direction, but there are still many more steps that ought to be taken – not least ratifying the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects

Claims are sometimes thrown about, that the reason for not ratifying was that it would help facilitate the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, although I have never been entirely certain that this was the case. I am assuming that the government (which is opposed to the return of the Marbles) will have looked into the legalities of this particular aspect in detail already.

UNESCO logo

UNESCO logo

From:
Guardian

Britain signs convention on protecting treasures in war zones
Toby Helm
Sunday 21 June 2015 00.05 BST

It’s come years late, but the culture secretary is to pledge the UK to helping save historic and artistic artefacts under threat in conflict-torn countries

Britain is to end years of indecision by ratifying an international agreement aimed at preventing the loss of cultural and historic artefacts in conflict zones, amid growing outrage at the destruction by Isis militants of ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.
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