April 21, 2007

Greeks should be allowed to borriw the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 12:31 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the Bloomberg interview with Neil MacGregor, other papers have spotted the story & are focusing on the aspects of it that suggest that the Elgin Marbles could be returned. The British Museum seems somewhat ill informed with its facts though, as since early 2000, Greece has no longer claimed ownership in their requests for the return of the sculptures.

The Times

April 19, 2007
Greeks could be allowed to borrow the Elgin Marbles
Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

The British Museum has intimated that the Elgin Marbles could be lent to Athens.

Neil MacGregor, its director, said that, like any object in its collection, a loan would be possible if the Greek Government acknowledged the museum’s ownership of the sculptures.

The Greek authorities hailed his comments as unprecedented. One source told The Times: “This is the first time they’ve ever said they’d let them out of the museum. We’ve said we’re not disputing the ownership.”

The Marbles, now known as the Parthenon Marbles, have been the subject of a bitter dispute since the 19th century, when Lord Elgin, as the British Ambassador, removed them from the Acropolis in Athens.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Mr MacGregor appeared to open the door to a compromise. Asked whether the trustees would consider a request from Athens to borrow the Marbles, he said: “There is no reason why any object in the museum, if it is fit to travel, shouldn’t spend three months, six months, somewhere else. So, in principle, absolutely yes.

“The difficulty at the moment is that the Greek Government has formally, and recently, refused to acknowledge that the trustees are the owners of the objects.” He said the Greek Government had never officially asked to borrow the treasures. “The issue has always been about the permanent removal of all the Parthenon material in the BM collection to Athens,” he said.

Victoria Solomonidis, the cultural counsellor at the Greek Embassy in London, said: “The words of Neil MacGregor are most welcome news. The Greek side is interested in the reunification of the Parthenon and the issue of ownership does not come into it.”

Eleni Corka, an official in the Greek Culture Ministry, told the BBC: “I believe that if we discuss the issue we will find ground which will be suitable and solutions which will be profitable for both sides.”

Britain has argued that when Lord Elgin bought and removed the Marbles between 1803 and 1812 he was acting legally and that, had he not done so, they would have suffered at least a further century of deterioration. Fearing their destruction in the conflict between the Greeks and the Turks, the 7th Earl secured permission from the Turks to remove the antiquities.

Campaigners have challenged whether the removal of the marbles has been of any benefit. Anthony Snodgrass, Laurence Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, has argued the British Museum’s Marbles now pale against those that Lord Elgin did not remove.

He believes original details that are absent from the British Museum’s creamy-white sculptures — which had a millimetre of the surface skin removed during the cleaning scandal of the 1930s — can be seen in the warm brown Greek figures that remain in Athens.

Looking at a depiction of two horsemen which Elgin did not remove, he noted that chisel marks and traces of colour in the crevices and folds of drapery, along with anatomical details such as veins on the horses’ bellies, are all missing from the London sculptures.

Eleni Cubitt, of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, said: “It’s the first time Neil MacGregor has made a proposition of this kind.”

A multimillion-pound Acropolis Museum, with a spectacular gallery to house the Marbles, is due to be completed this summer.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said that objects could not be lent to a country where their ownership is not recognised as vested in the museum.

The treasure

  • The temple of Athena Parthenos, known as the Parthenon, was built on the Athens Acropolis, probably between 447 and 438BC. It is thought the sculptures were not finished until about 432BC
  • The pediments, triangular gables at each end of the building, were decorated with sculptural groups showing the birth of Athena and the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the land of Attica
  • Metopes or relief panels showing scenes from the battle between the Lapiths and centaurs also originally decorated the exterior of the building
  • In 1816, MPs found that the collection was acquired legitimately by Lord Elgin as a private individual. The collection was acquired by the British Museum
  • The suggestion that it be returned to Athens was raised in the Commons in 1816. Greeks began calling for its return in 1833

Source: British Museum

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