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British Museum can loan Parthenon Marbles, just not to Greece

There are so many things wrong with this story that it is hard to know where to start. It seems that MacGregor is absolutely intent in snubbing Greece at all costs, to ingratiate the other so called Universal Museums [1] of the world.

Grumpy art Historian [2] has already written a good piece highlighting some of the many anachronisms with this approach.

It seems that the British Museum is currently more willing to lend artefacts to countries that regularly endorse the actions of terrorist groups (Iran) and countries that directly support rebel groups who blow up civilian airliners (Russia) than it is to lend to Greece.

In the past, Greece has made much of the benefits of its approach that involves quiet diplomacy to try & resolve the issue, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that this is not really moving things forward at all. There do not appear to be any rewards for good behaviour in this game.

I imagine that Britain’s & Russia’s museums will get on quite well together, afterall, Russia also has large amounts of disputed artworks [3], acquired during a variety of different means [4].

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the British Museum plans to loan the river-god Ilissos to the Hermitage in St Petersburg [5]

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the British Museum plans to loan the river-god Ilissos to the Hermitage in St Petersburg

Guardian [6]

Parthenon marbles loaned to Russian museum
Chris Johnston
Friday 5 December 2014 00.55 GMT

Part of the Parthenon marbles have been allowed to leave Britain for the first time through a loan of a sculpture to a Russian museum.

The headless statue of a Greek river-god, Ilissos, will go on display in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg on Friday to help celebrate the institution’s 250th anniversary.

The marbles have been held by the British Museum since Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire, took them from the Parthenon in Athens in the 19th century.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said it opened its doors five years before the Hermitage and that the two institutions were “almost twins, they are the first great museums of the European Enlightenment”.

He added: “The British Museum is a museum of the world, for the world and nothing demonstrates this more than the loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the State Hermitage.”

The decision is likely to cause controversy given the frosty relations between Russia and the west in the wake of the invasion of eastern Ukraine earlier this year and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July, killing all 298 people on board.

MacGregor told the Times: “The politics of both museums have been that the more chilly the politics between governments, the more important the relationship between museums.”

The loan was only agreed a fortnight ago. Sir Richard Lambert, the chairman of the British Museum’s trustees, said that they wanted to “leave room for flexibility if the political relationship between western Europe and Russia changed”.

The two-month loan will also reopen the debate about whether the marbles should be returned to Greece. The Greek government has argued for the past four decades that the 2,500-year-old sculptures belong in a museum in Athens. The British Museum is the most generous lender in the world, MacGregor said.

However, no talks had ever been held with the Greek government about a loan of part of the Parthenon marbles. “To date they have always made it clear that they would not return them. That rather puts the conversation on pause,” the director said.