October 1, 2002

Italy plans handover of Parthenon frieze fragment

Posted at 7:59 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

The planned loan by Italy to Greece of a small fragment of the Parthenon Frieze looks set to raise the profile of the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, Proving that it is perfectly possible for such artefacts to be returned on loan if the political will exists to do so.

The Times

October 01, 2002
Fragment of Greek history to reignite row over Marbles
From Richard Owen in Rome

A FRAGMENT of the Parthenon frieze kept by an 18th-century British diplomat in Sicily is to be returned to Greece. It is a gesture that is certain to revive the dispute over Britain’s retention of the Elgin Marbles.

President Ciampi of Italy plans to hand over part of a statue of the goddess Peitho during a state visit to Greece next month in a move described by officials as a “gesture of friendship”.

The fragment, held at a museum in Sicily, consists of the goddess’s foot and part of her tunic and once formed part of the frieze on the east side of the Parthenon.

Francesco D’Andria, Italy’s leading archaeological expert on Greek and Turkish antiquities, said that the move undoubtedly would give the Greek authorities a reason to return to their campaign to get back the Elgin Marbles. He deplored the decision because it could “destabilise the entire museum system of Europe. Does Italy now expect Paris to return the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, or the Russians to return Roman sarcophagi from the Hermitage?”
La Repubblica said that although the fragment was only 35 centimetres (13½in) square, it was enough to “revive the battle between nations over the restitution of cultural treasures, and not least the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum”.

A spokesman for the museum said that the rest of the figure of Peitho was not among the marbles removed by Lord Elgin, and had remained in Athens. It did not, therefore, relate to the Elgin Marbles issue.

The figure of Peitho, the Goddess of Seduction and Persuasion and daughter of Aphrodite, was once part of a line of Greek divinities on the frieze. But the Parthenon, built on the Acropolis hill in Athens in the 5th century BC, suffered repeated damage, most notably in 1687 when Venetian forces besieging the Turkish rulers of Athens blew it up.

In the 18th century, collectors of antiquities started to cart off bits of the ruin, and in 1801 Lord Elgin obtained an official permit “to remove some blocks of stones with inscriptions and figures” which were sold to the British Museum in 1816.

The fragment of Peitho, however, was acquired by Robert Fagan, the British Consul in Sicily and a colourful adventurer, spy, amateur archaeologist, portrait painter and art dealer. On his death in 1816, Fagan, by then plagued by debts, left his collection to Palermo University and it now forms part of the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum (named after the archaeologist Antonio Salinas).

Fabio Granata, assessor of culture for Sicily, confirmed that he had been asked by the President’s office to sign a permit allowing the export of the Peitho fragment. He said that Italy hoped that in return Greece would hand back Italian treasures held in Greece.

Rosalia Camerata Scovazzo, head of the Salinas Museum, said that she was handing back the Peitho fragment with reluctance. “It is one thing when you are dealing with objects which have been stolen over the past few decades, but it is quite another matter to give back pieces which come from private collections formed one or even two centuries ago,” she said.

Greece sees the staging of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 as an opportunity to recover the Elgin Marbles and display them in a new museum near the Acropolis. The British Museum said that it is prohibited from permanently disposing of any objects.

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