June 15, 2007
The Department of Culture Media & Sport’s Select committee held a recent enquiry “Caring for Our Collections”, the remit of which included de-accessioning from Museums. The Marbles Reunited committee made a submission to this enquiry. The full results of the enquiry can be read on the UK parliament website here & here.
Below is a copy of the submission made by Marbles Reunited.
Memorandum submitted by Marbles Reunited: Friends of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
1. About Us
Marbles Reunited: Friends of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles is a British organisation which lobbies for the reunification of all surviving Parthenon sculptures in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece. Our membership includes politicians, lawyers, archaeologists, museum professionals, architects, media figures and leading academics.
2. Main Points
In our view current restrictions on the disposal of objects imposed by statute, charity law and the terms of gifts:
(a) May cause injustice to individuals or communities.
(b) Handicap museums by limiting the discretion of directors or trustees to manage their collections in accordance with their best interests.
(c) Restrict or exclude opportunities for potentially advantageous exchanges, long term loans or joint ventures with other museums at home and abroad.
(d) Are out of step with current and evolving best practice.
(e) Limit the powers of directors and trustees to give full consideration to the merits of external claims and requests.
(f) May tend to expose directors or trustees in foreign jurisdictions to personal, civil or criminal litigation. As a consequence of all of the above it is submitted that the standing of British museums may be damaged in the eyes of the international community.
3. Factual Information That the Select Committee Should Be Aware Of
The current Greek offer for the return of the Parthenon Marbles sets aside claims to ownership, invites joint curatorship and reunification of all surviving pieces within the New Acropolis Museum. The British Museum has never given a reasoned response to the points in this oVer. In exchange for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, Greece has set aside any claims on other items in the British Museum and has offered to lend artefacts of exceptional significance to museums in Britain. The New Acropolis Museum has state of the art facilities and will open in early 2007.
Whilst we understand the historic rationale for legal prohibitions against the deaccessioning of objects from British museums, we believe that absolute bars are now no longer the best way to balance the safeguarding of museum collections with other legal and cultural interests. It should instead fall within the remit of individual museums to set their own policies for the disposal of objects within their collections. There should be a mechanism to ensure the timely and fair consideration by museums of all claims and proposals involving deaccessioning and relocation of artefacts. This should be legally enforceable and judicially reviewable.
A number of appendices of supplementary informations were also included to back up this submission:
Marbles Reunited submission to the DCMS select committee,
Details of supplementary information relating to points in the memorandum:
1 Attorney General v Trustees of the British Museum (Feldmann Case) 27th May 2005.
2 The Greek sense of injustice relating to British retention of the Elgin Marbles.
1 Prosecution brought against former Getty curator Marion True by the Italian Government.
2 Egypt’s Supreme Archaeological Council threatens to stop scientific cooperation & halt archaeological digs involving parties that it is in dispute with over restitution claims.
3 Attorney General v Trustees of the British Museum (Feldmann Case) 27th May 2005 – see 2a(1).
1 In return for a long-term loan of the Marbles, Greece is offering to reciprocate by lending important artefacts for display in the British Museum.
1 The return of the Heidelberg fragment of the Parthenon frieze to Greece.
2 Barry Lord’s speech in Korea about Bilbao.
3 The Getty & Italy reached an agreement for the return of disputed artefacts in exchange for ‘loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance’.
4 The Mission Statement of the Guggenheim Museum.
1 Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum; Sir John Boyd describes how the Trustees welcomed the new opportunities given to them by the Human Tissue Act (2004).
1 Prosecution brought against former Getty curator Marion True by the Italian Government. – see 2b(1).
1 The Greek offer made to the British Museum for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens BY Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos in November 2003.
2 The official Greek position on the return of the Elgin Marbles.
The British Museum asked the courts to rule on whether an overwhelming moral case could override the British Museum Act (1963).
Attorney General v Trustees of the British Museum
Ch D: Sir Andrew Morritt V-C: 27 May 2005
From Bloomberg News:
British Museum Can’t Return Works Looted by Nazis, Court Says
May 27 2005 (Bloomberg) — The British Museum, which holds antiquities including the Rosetta Stone and sculptures from Athens’ Parthenon, is barred from returning art looted by the Nazis to the heirs of a Jewish collector, a London court ruled.
The museum can’t override a law blocking it from disposing of pieces in its collection, the U.K. High Court said today. Peter Goldsmith, Britain’s Attorney General, had asked the court to determine whether the institute’s trustees could be permitted to return four drawings it suspects were stolen from Czech doctor Arthur Feldmann in 1939 on the grounds of “moral obligation.”
“No moral obligation can justify a disposition by the Trustees of an object forming part of the collections of the museum,” Justice Andrew Morritt told the court. Feldmann, whose collection was seized from his home when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, later died in a Nazi prison.
Museums worldwide are facing growing pressure to return art works to their homelands. Greece has repeatedly asked to reclaim the Parthenon sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles after the U.K. ambassador who removed them, from the British Museum. In Egypt, authorities have called for Berlin’s Egyptian Museum to return a 3,000-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti.
Lawyers representing Goldsmith earlier this week said allowing the museum, which has more than 5 million visitors annually, to return the four Old Master drawings to Feldmann’s descendants could pave the way for claims on other works.
The drawings, estimated to be worth around 150,000 pounds ($274,000), include “St. Dorothy with the Christ Child” by a follower of Martin Schongauer; “Virgin and infant Christ, adored by St Elizabeth and the Infant St John,” by Martin Johann Schmidt; “An Allegory on Poetic Inspiration with Mercury and Apollo” by the 18th-century English artist Nicholas Blakey; and “The Holy Family” by the 16th-century Bolognese artist Niccolo dell’Abbate.
The British Museum bought the drawings in good faith in the late 1940s, without knowing their origin, according to the judgment.
A spokeswoman for the British Museum said the institution will have a comment on the case later today.
The case is HC04CO3885 Her Majesty’s Attorney General v The Trustees of the British Museum.
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan Murphy in London at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Last Updated: May 27, 2005 08:13 EDT
The Greek sense of injustice relating to British retention of the Elgin Marbles.
Emphasis in text is ours.
From the Boston Globe:
They’ve lost their marbles, and they want the world to know
Greek exhibit presses Britain to return Parthenon sculptures
By Charles M. Sennott and Sarah Liebowitz, Globe Staff And Globe Correspondent
July 12, 2004
ATHENS — Art exhibits often have missions or political statements. But the goal of an exhibit opening next month at the Parthenon, the jewel of Athenian art and culture, is more specific than most: It is intended to provoke London’s British Museum into loaning its Parthenon sculptures to Greece.
Timed to coincide with the millions of tourists flooding into Athens for the Summer Olympics, the exhibit, which is expected to open Aug. 2, has been assembled to starkly illustrate what the Greeks see as an injustice. It occurred in the 19th century, when the British Lord Elgin and his team of excavators hacked nearly half of the marble sculptures and friezes off the Parthenon and toted them back to London, where they are housed in the British Museum.
The British Museum has refused to return the “Parthenon marbles,” as they are known, despite a cultural and political campaign in Greece to have the pieces returned and rejoined with the other remains of the Parthenon. British Museum officials have declined to be interviewed about the matter and have instead issued statements about the marbles.
The exhibit, which is in the final planning stages, will illustrate how Elgin — who in 1799 became the British ambassador to Constantinople, then the seat of the Ottoman Empire — removed statues and friezes that were embedded in the very architecture of the Parthenon.
Dr. Alcestis Choremi, the director of the New Acropolis Museum, which is under construction, said the exhibit will highlight the Western frieze of the Parthenon, from which Elgin removed most of the sculptures. With explanatory notes and an accompanying lecture series, the exhibit intends to make clear that by removing the marbles, Elgin dismantled the Parthenon itself.
“The intention of the exhibit will be to show the world our case, that we would like to unite the pieces of the frieze and the statues,” Choremi said. “Now we think the Olympics will be a chance to get the world interested, to put the pressure on the British to finally return these important pieces of our heritage.”
Greece’s deputy minister of culture, Fani Palli-Petralia, said the exhibit aims to “play up the idea that the British must return these treasures. This is a national issue for us, a political issue, and one for all the world to know about, because the Acropolis is a monument of civilization for all of the world.”
The controversy between the British Museum and Greece has spurred academics and politicians around the globe to consider broader questions about the claims that nations have on art and the manner in which art should be displayed. There is a growing movement toward the “repatriation” of art that was looted or carted off by one empire — or crusading archeologists — and ended up in the great museums of the world. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Choremi pointed out, returned important fragments of ancient Greek vases in 1998, and the German government returned fragments of the building of ancient Olympia in 2001.
In Greece, the conflict has led to the New Acropolis Museum, meant to open alongside the Olympic Games in the shadow of the Parthenon. But construction has been delayed since ancient artifacts were discovered during the digging of the foundation. For now, the construction site is essentially a vast hole in the ground with circular, concrete pilings that will hold the foundation.
After years of tussling with the British political and cultural establishment over the return of the marbles, Greece has changed its tack. Rather than demanding restitution, Greece is now asking the British Museum to simply loan its Parthenon sculptures to the New Acropolis Museum.
Greece’s former minister of culture, Evangelos Venizelos, proposed that the British Museum deliver the Parthenon marbles to Greece through either a long-term loan or the creation of a British annex in Greece’s New Acropolis Museum. In exchange, Greece promises to offer on loan to Britain a number of “priceless” antiquities.
“The request for the return of the Parthenon marbles is not made merely by the Greek nation or in the name of history but in the name of the world’s cultural heritage,” Venizelos said. “Indeed, until restitution is made, the mutilated monument will be seen as a sad reproach to that heritage.”
In a recent statement, the British Museum rejected Venizelos’s appeal. “The Greek Government is not asking for a loan in the ordinary sense. Their aim has always been the perpetual removal of all the fragments now in London,” the statement reads. “This absolute position makes it virtually impossible for Trustees to have serious discussions.”
The focal point of the New Acropolis Museum’s design is a glass enclosure that mirrors the dimensions of the Parthenon, in which Greece hopes to house all of the marbles, only 300 yards from the Parthenon itself. If Britain refuses to loan the marbles, the new museum will instead house vast empty spaces intended to serve as a monument to Britain’s guilt. The exhibit opening this month offers a glimpse of this theme.
In recent years the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum — where the controversial sculptures reside — has been the site of raging conflict. At the 1982 UN Cultural Policies conference, Greece’s then-minister of culture, Melina Mercouri, initiated a successful resolution calling for the return of the Parthenon marbles. Britain, in turn, claimed legal ownership. To contrast the image of Elgin as a thief, the British Museum portrays Elgin as a courageous art-lover, claiming in a recent statement that “the continuing destruction of classical sculptures persuaded Elgin to endeavor to remove for posterity what sculptures he could.”
The questioned legality of the marbles’ ownership harkens back to their history in Britain. Elgin returned to Britain and, in financial ruin, set about selling the marbles to the British government. A Parliamentary committee determined that Elgin had acquired the sculptures legally, despite the fact that he had taken them from a Greece occupied by Ottoman Turks.
The British government bought the marbles from Elgin for a paltry $64,000 in 1816, and for nearly two centuries the breathtaking marbles — 274 of the original 524 feet of frieze, 15 of the Parthenon’s 92 metopes, and 17 pedimental figures — have graced the British Museum.
Freddie New, head of the press office for the London-based British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, says the debate in the 1980s centered on “hard-core restitution,” the question of national claim on the Parthenon marbles. Yet in the 22 years since the UN resolution, the British Museum has made clear it will not relinquish the marbles.
The plans for the New Acropolis Museum counter the British Museum’s longstanding critique of how Greece has cared for its Parthenon marbles. In a recent statement about the marbles, the British Museum writes of the Greek Parthenon sculptures that “the majority are either in store and unavailable to the public, or still on the building and at risk from weathering and pollution.” The new museum — designed by New York-based architect Bernard Tschumi — would place all of the Parthenon sculptures on display, in a protected facility.
And in terms of caretaking, the British Museum has been forced to hang its head. In 1999, the museum hosted a conference to discuss the potential damage during its 1937-38 “restoration” of the marbles, when masons set about scraping and sanding the sculptures. While the results remain debated, many believe the masons irreversibly harmed the marbles.
In the meantime, the British Museum takes a populist — it charges no entry fee — and cultural stance in its defense. It asserts that it is in a better place, geographically and otherwise, to exhibit the pieces and put them in the context of the history of civilization. The museum, which claims 4.6 million visitors a year, says it provides “a world museum in which Greece’s cultural debts . . . can be clearly seen, and the contribution of ancient Greece to the development of later cultural achievements . . . can be fully understood.”
“The Parthenon itself has been irretrievably damaged since the seventeenth century. The restoration of the integrity of the building is thus an unachievable goal,” Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said in January. “Only here can the worldwide significance of the sculptures be fully grasped.”
Sennott reported from Greece; Liebowitz reported from London.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Prosecution brought against former Getty curator Marion True by the Italian Government.
Getty curator on trial in Rome in stolen art case
18 Jul 2005 13:14:21 GMT
By Shasta Darlington
ROME, July 18 (Reuters) – The curator of antiquities at California’s respected J. Paul Getty Museum went on trial in Rome on Monday accused of receiving stolen artefacts in a case closely watched by the international art world.
After a decade-long investigation, Italian prosecutors charged Marion True, who has been with the Getty for over 20 years, of criminal conspiracy to receive stolen goods and illegal receipt of archaeological artefacts.
True denies the charges and the Getty has defended her.
“We trust that this trial will result in her exoneration and end further damage to the personal and professional reputation of Dr. True,” it said in a statement following her indictment.
True did not appear in court for the start of trial, which was adjourned immediately after opening remarks until Nov. 16 in order to provide an English translation of the proceedings.
The case involves some 40 artefacts that prosecutors believe were illegally excavated or stolen and later acquired by the Getty, including a prized ancient Greek statue of Aphrodite.
“We have boxes and boxes of documents and very convincing elements,” a source with the prosecution said.
The trial is widely seen as an effort by Italian authorities to crack down on the trade in illegally excavated archaeological items by putting pressure on museums and collectors to verify the origin of artefacts.
“We hope the trial will ensure this kind of crime isn’t repeated, that museums learn you can’t turn a blind eye to art theft,” the source said.
Art experts estimate that the global black market in stolen antiquities generates billions of dollars a year.
Italy and France are the two main targets, accounting for more than 12,000 stolen pieces of art every year, with Italy’s churches and archaeological sites a favourite for thieves.
“People need to admit that fantastic artefacts don’t just emerge out of the blue,” the source added. “Either they’re fakes or they’ve been illegally excavated.”
The ruling is also expected to have wider implications for countries trying to retrieve lost and stolen artworks.
The investigation began in 1995 when Swiss police seized thousands of documents and photographs along with some 4,000 stolen artefacts. Investigators say the paper trail showed how a group traded in and “laundered” stolen antiquities.
“They basically describe the last 40 years of illegal trafficking in antiquities from Tuscany and Lazio,” a source said, referring to two central Italian regions.
In 2000, the evidence was sent to Italy and served as the basis for a trial of Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici, who is appealing a recent 10-year prison sentence.
Investigators say they will seek a shorter sentence for True and Paris-based art dealer Emanuel Robert Hecht who is also a defendant in the trial. They accuse True of knowingly acquiring stolen artefacts via Medici and Hecht.
In 1999, True and the Getty made the unusual and much-publicised decision to return three artefacts to Italy that they had determined were stolen years before.
Egypt’s Supreme Archaeological Council threatens to stop scientific cooperation & halt archaeological digs involving parties that it is in dispute with over restitution claims.
From Jerusalem Post:
Jul. 19, 2005 3:16 | Updated Jul. 19, 2005 14:18
Egypt to UK: Return Rosetta Stone
By ORLY HALPERN
Egypt has demanded that Britain return the Rosetta Stone, the priceless artifact that helped crack the code of hieroglyphics. The move is the latest attempt by Egypt to retrieve its ancient history.
Egypt’s top archeologist accused Britain and Belgium of stealing artifacts and announced that Egypt would host a conference for countries which have lost their historical artifacts to other countries.
Palestinian archeologists hope that the conference will help them gain back the Rockefeller Museum in east Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli control since 1967, and to retrieve what their Israeli counterparts took from the West Bank and Gaza.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief archeologist, threatened to shut down archeological digs run by British and Belgian scholars in Egypt if the 4,400-year-old reliefs that were taken from two tombs uncovered in 1965 are not returned.
“We sent a letter to the Fitzwilliams Museum in Britain and the Catholic University in Belgium asking them to bring the two pieces stolen from the Giza pyramids in 1965,” Hawass told The Jerusalem Post. The Catholic University is presently excavating in Deir al-Barsha, near the southern town of Minya and the Fitzwilliams Museum at Cambridge University has archeologists at the site.
“We will use our scientific relationship to put pressure on them,” said Hawass.
Asked if this meant he would halt digs, Hawass, who is the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, did not mince his words: “Exactly,” he said.
He issued his ultimatum on Sunday [17th July 2006], days after he called on the United Nations cultural organization, UNESCO, to pressure the world-famous British Museum to return the stone, where it is one of the star attractions.
The three-foot stone slab, which was carved in 196 BCE and discovered by French soldiers in upper Egypt in 1799, contains a text written in three languages by a group of priests to honor the pharaoh. The languages include hieroglyphics, used by the pharaohs; demotic, which was the common script of Egypt; and Greek.
If and when returned, the Rosetta Stone will be housed in one of Egypt’s two museums now under construction: the Grand Egyptian Museum or the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.
However, the Rosetta Stone was not the only famous artifact on the Egyptian list.
“There are five unique artifacts which we want back,” Hawass told the Post.
The other four are the Nefertiti bust in Berlin’s Egyptian Museum; the Zodiac in the French Louvre; the bust of Hemiunu, the architect of the Great Pyramid which is at the Hildesheim Museum; and the bust of Ankhkhaf, the architect of the Second Pyramid which is on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Hawass has also called on UNESCO to send invitations to all the countries who have unique artifacts they want back to come to a conference in November.
“Then we can discuss together how to retrieve what we lost,” said Hawass.
Dr. Moain Sadeq, director- general of the Department of Antiquities in Gaza and a participant in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 1994 on archeological issues, told the Post he believed the conference could help return Palestinian archeological artifacts.
“When we meet with our colleagues in UNESCO and from departments of antiquities around the world, we will ask for help and support in the returning of artifacts taken from the 1967 Palestinian Territories and the return of the Palestine Museum,” said Sadeq.
In return for a long-term loan of the Marbles, Greece is offering to reciprocate by lending important artefacts for display in the British Museum.
Emphasis in text is ours.
From the Daily Telegraph:
Greeks offer treasures to have Elgin marbles back by 2004 Games
By Chris Hastings and David Bamber
GREECE has offered the loan of hundreds of newly discovered treasures in an attempt to persuade Britain to return the Elgin marbles to Athens in time for the Olympic Games in 2004.
Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek culture minister, believes that an agreement will end the stand-off between the two nations over the 2,300-year-old marble statues and carved panels which were removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin in 1799.
Greece is even prepared to change one of its laws in order to allow the movement of such valuable artefacts.
The offer goes well beyond anything suggested to the British Museum or the British Government before, and senior figures inside Unesco, the world heritage organisation, believe that it is “unthinkable” that it should be refused.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture confirmed: “The Greek culture minister has made a new proposal to the Government for the return of the marbles.”
Last night the British Museum said it was holding talks with the Greek authorities about the new plan for “a temporary loan for the period of the Games”.
A senior member of staff said the proposal was “the most serious offer made so far” and was being actively discussed.
The Greek politicians have told the museum that they are so anxious for the return of the giant marble friezes, which include scenes from the earliest Olympic games, that they will change the law and allow the cream of a recently unearthed treasure trove from Athens to be displayed in London.
Greece has in the past refused to allow newly-discovered artefacts to be displayed abroad.
The British Government is facing increasing pressure to hand over the marbles for good, and at the very least in time for the Games if only on a temporary basis.
The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that a new campaign group called Parthenon 2004 is to be launched in November by Richard Allen, the Liberal Democrat MP.
The group – which has well known supporters such as Julie Christie, Dame Judi Dench and Emma Thompson – will use tactics similar to those employed by the Jubilee 2000 campaign which aims to write off Third World debt.
Germany has agreed to return some of the sculptures that made up part of the Parthenon site, even though they had originally been given as a gift to the Germans from the Greek government.
The case for returning the marbles was first conceded, then shelved, by Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition government in 1941.
Greece revived its demand for their return in a letter to Tessa Jowell, the newly appointed Culture Secretary, immediately after the general election.
It was Labour policy to return the marbles – now officially called the Parthenon marbles by both Britain and Greece – but that policy has been reversed.
Despite the new offer, there will still be significant resistance to returning the marbles and Ms Jowell will make the final decision.
Greece has recently constructed a £40 million museum in Athens, within sight of the Parthenon temple where the marbles were originally created by craftsmen overseen by Pheidias, the greatest artist of the ancient world.
The building, at the foot of the Acropolis hill, will have a huge glass wall especially made so that the marbles can be seen against the background of the Parthenon.
Work has already begun on the new display chambers in an urgent attempt to get them open in time for 2004.
Eleni Cubitt, the head of the British committee for restitution of the marbles, has said the galleries will “make the British Museum gallery look like a mausoleum”.
If the statues are not returned by the time the museum opens on the eve of the Games, an empty gallery will be left to remind visitors of the distress of the Greeks at their continued absence.
The return of the Heidelberg fragment of the Parthenon frieze to Greece.
From Athens News:
FRIDAY , 08 SEPTEMBER 2006 No. 13199
Parthenon fragment returns home
Handed over to Greece by Heidelberg University, the small marble piece raises hopes for the repatriation of the Marbles collection kept at the British Museum in London
A PALM-SIZED marble fragment detached from the Parthenon was handed over to Greece on September 4 by the Heidelberg University’s Museum of Antiquities. The small piece, measuring 8 by 12 centimetres, is the first section from the 2,500-year-old monument to return to its place of origin after an absence of almost 150 years. The highly symbolic gesture has raised the Greek government’s hopes over the long – and for decades fruitless – campaign for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles displayed at the British Museum in London.
“This is a new page in a previously deadlocked debate concerning the return of the entirety of the Parthenon sculptures from museums abroad,” said Culture Minister George Voulgarakis on September 5, presenting the recovered piece to the press at the old Acropolis Museum. “Though the best known example of a foreign institution holding on to Parthenon antiquities is that of the British Museum – the so-called Elgin Marbles were removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century – fragments from the 5th-century BC temple, dedicated to goddess of wisdom Athena and regarded as the peak of ancient Greek architecture, are kept in the Louvre, the Vatican as well as smaller museums in Palermo, Vienna, Copenhagen, Munich and Wurzburg.”
Voulgarakis said that the prestigious German university has taken the first step in the promotion of the reunification of the Marbles, “acknowledging that there was no scientific, legal or moral footing for retaining their possession”. “The Parthenon Marbles have just about started to return home,” he said a day before in his speech during an official ceremony in Heidelberg for the fragment’s handing over to Greece.
The Heidelberg sculpture belongs to block VIII in the lower right corner of the Parthenon frieze’s north section. It depicts in relief the foot of a chiton-clad leaf-bearer (thalloforos), who along with two guitar-playing figures in long robes and sandals joins the religious Panathenaic procession represented on the 160-metre strip of marble slabs. “In modern times the sculpture was given a rectangular shape, its reverse side was smoothed out and the word ‘Parthenon’ in Greek was engraved on it,” Alcestis Choremi, director of the Acropolis Ephorate, told the Athens News. She added: “Most likely, the sculpture ended up in Heidelberg’s collection through a traveller who took the piece back in Germany around 1871 as a souvenir. In 1948 it was identified as part of the Parthenon by archaeologist German Hafner.”
Acknowledging that the Heidelberg fragment is far less significant than the Parthenon collection displayed at the British Museum, University of Crete professor Petros Themelis, who is also a member of the Acropolis Committee and the Central Archaeological Council, regards the sculpture’s return as a symbolic gesture underlined by the item’s minuscule size. “But it was a smart move on the part of the government and a good start for further requests,” he said.
The fragment’s return is owed to a great extent to Angelos Delivorrias, Benaki Museum director and president of the Hellenic Committee for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles, who first requested the piece’s return two years ago. “This is a move of colossal symbolic significance,” Delivorrias told the Athens News. “Heidelberg University is one of the oldest academic institutions abroad with a tradition in European Studies,” he said. “This is the first official recognition of the longstanding request for the return and reunification of the Parthenon sculptures. It is the monument itself that demands the return and not just the country.” The monument’s integrity has been one of the major arguments for the return, and Delivorrias sees the repatriation crusade launched by former culture minister Melina Mercouri in 1982 as “not an easy affair, but not a lost one either”.
Voulgarakis pointed out that the Greek request for the Marbles’ return has grown into a global matter that goes beyond national borders. “It is not an issue of national pride,” he said. “The case of the Parthenon is unique and does not set a precedent for other museums and collections. The reunification of the sculptures is a debt to history.”
Though Greece lost the bid to bring the Marbles back in time for the 2004 Olympic Games, demands are more pressing now in view of the completion of the new Acropolis Museum, which is due next year.
An entire hall at the 129 million euro museum designed by French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and strategically situated at the foot of the Acropolis has been reserved for the Parthenon Marbles. “In anticipation of the sculptures’ return, display cases will remain empty,” said Voulgarakis. Stepping up its efforts to reclaim the Parthenon’s sculptures, the ministry’s policy is to start with smaller pieces held in museums abroad. For every piece returned, Greece plans to offer another antiquity in a goodwill gesture.
A Roman head will be offered to Heidelberg in return for the Parthenon chunk. “By Greek law this offer has the form of a temporary five-year loan which may be renewed once the loan period expires,” Themelis told the Athens News. Negotiations continue over the return of a 35×34 centimetre fragment from the Parthenon’s eastern side, in the collections of the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo since 1820, which depicts in relief the foot of goddess Peitho. Greece and Italy reached a dead-end in 2002 when a significant bronze helmet from Olympia – dedicated to the Temple of Zeus by Hiero, Tyrant of Syracuse – was proposed in the exchange for Sicily’s Parthenon fragment. “At this point we are discussing the offer of another artefact in the place of the helmet,” said Choremi.
The announcement on the Heidelberg fragment on August 23 came a day after the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles signed over to Greece ownership of a 6th-century BC marble votive relief from the island of Thassos and a 4th-century BC carved tombstone from near Thebes. The private museum is considering the return of another two antiquities in its collections – a gold wreath and a marble statue which, according to Greek authorities, had been exported illegally.
In the spirit of reclaiming the country’s plundered heritage, a multimedia exhibition co-organised by the McDonald Institute of Cambridge University and the 37th Ephorate of antiquities at the new Benaki Museum on Pireos Street, questions the ethics of the international art trade. Hosted at the National Archaeological Museum of Cyprus before its Athens opening on September 11, History Lost takes the viewer from the sacking of the Baghdad Archaeological Museum and the destruction of statues in Cambodia to the illegal sale of Greek antiquities by US auction houses. On display are examples from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan, countries which have begun in the last few years to reclaim antiquities illegally exported and sold abroad. Screenings of documentaries from around the world and interactive games raise awareness about the looting and trade of world heritage.
ATHENS NEWS , 08/09/2006, page: A29
Article code: C13199A291
A presentation by Barry Lord to the Joint Meeting of the Korean Institute for Museum Architecture outlining the benefits of decentralising museum collections.
From the International Council of Museums Brief 25:
ICOM – International Council of Museums
ICAMT – International Committee for Architecture and Museum Techniques
The Variety of Participation and Experiences in Urban Museum Facilities
Presentation to the Joint Meeting of the Korean Institute for Museum Architecture and the ICOM Committee for Architecture and Museum Techniques by Barry Lord, Vice-President, LORD Cultural Resources Planning and Management Inc.
Decentralization of Access to Collections
Another response by urban museums to the changes of the early 21st century has been to make their collections more accessible by establishing branches for visitors elsewhere.
The best-known example is of course New York’s Guggenheim Museum, which has well-established branches in Venice and Bilbao. The Guggenheim Bilbao has been the most spectacular success of these branches, due in large part to the remarkable building that Canadian architect Frank Gehry designed for it. The Museum’s success has led to the term “Bilbaoification” as an example of the role that a new urban museum can play in transforming the image and the reality of an industrial city like Bilbao. Our firm is currently working on a Strategic Plan for the Guggenheim Bilbao which is intended to plan into the next five years for that institution, as it seeks to maintain and if possible build on its past success.
A less happy example has been the Guggenheim’s experience in Las Vegas, where one of two related branch galleries has closed. Nevertheless Director Thomas Krens and his Board remain committed to the idea of establishing branches, as their current proposal to place another branch in Taichung, Taiwan, indicates. The impetus behind this development is the understanding that massive collections are a liability as long as they remain in storage, but can become an asset if they are exhibited in branches that make the works of art more accessible, and at the same time build the ‘brand’ of the Guggenheim worldwide.
Equally spectacular has been the success of the Tate in dividing its Museum in London into two branches – Tate Britain and Tate Modern, both of which have been our clients. The Tate also has branches in Liverpool and St Ives, which allow it to make parts of its collection accessible to a wider audience within Britain, and at the same time to reinforce the appeal of its ‘brand.’ Most remarkable here has been the success of Tate Modern in establishing contemporary art as a popular mainstream rather than an avant-garde phenomenon, drawing crowds that have far exceeded projections. Contemporary art now appears to many as a symbol of freedom of expression, especially among young people, that may rival pop music.
The Hermitage has followed the example of the Guggenheim with international branches, while the Pompidou Centre is currently following the example of the Tate by planning a branch in the northern French city of Metz.
An interesting example here in Asia is the National Palace Museum in Taipei, for which we are currently planning a new south-central branch at Taibao in the province of Chiayi. The Southern Branch of the NPM is to have a pan-Asian focus, relating Taiwan to the whole of Asia, rather than just to China as in Taipei.
The Getty & Italy reached an agreement for the return of disputed artefacts in exchange for ‘loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance’.
Emphasis in text is ours.
From the New York Times:
Getty Museum May Return ‘Masterpieces’ to Italy
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
ROME, June 21 — The J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles has agreed to return some “significant objects” to Italy from its collection of Etruscan and Roman art, including “several masterpieces,” the trust announced Wednesday [June 21st 2006] in a joint statement with the Italian government.
Although few details were provided, the breakthrough seems to pave the way for a settlement to Italy’s claims to dozens of antiquities in the Getty Museum’s collection. Italy has long argued that those objects were looted from Italian soil in recent decades and sold to the Getty by unscrupulous dealers.
Neither side would say how many or which artifacts were being returned. In exchange for the antiquities, the two sides said, Italy is prepared to “provide loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance.”
As described so far, that trade-off seems roughly similar to one negotiated in February by Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which agreed to cede title to 21 objects in exchange for important loans.
The pact with the Getty emerged after three days of talks here between a museum delegation and officials at the Italian Culture Ministry. It is still subject to approval by the Getty’s trustees.
The joint statement said a final agreement would be drawn up “in early summer.” Two officials familiar with the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement is not finalized, said the Getty would soon call a special meeting of its trustees to review the proposed agreement.
Italian officials have been pressing the Getty to return more than 50 pieces that investigators here say were illegally dug up in Italy. These include such rarities as a marble statue of the goddess Aphrodite from the fifth century B.C.; a terra-cotta cup from the same period, by the Greek artist Euphronios; and a pair of marble griffins from the fourth century B.C.
Photographs of the griffins, shown lying in a car trunk encrusted with dirt and wrapped in crumpled newspaper, were displayed in a Rome courtroom last month during the trial of Marion True, the former curator of antiquities at the Getty. She is being jointly tried with the American dealer Robert Hecht on charges of conspiring to deal in looted artifacts. Both have declared their innocence.
The accord being negotiated by the museum and the Italian government is separate from their case and legally has no bearing on it.
The Getty has returned contested artifacts to Italy in the past. Before Ms. True’s trial began in November, the Getty relinquished three major pieces: a large 2,300-year-old vase by the Greek painter Asteas, a bronze candelabrum and an inscribed gravestone. In 1999 the museum returned an equally precious piece, a rare kylix, or drinking cup, depicting scenes from the Trojan War by Euphronios and his protégé Onesimos, and other objects.
But the tentative pact announced on Wednesday seemed to signal a desire by the Getty Museum to put the dispute with the Italian government behind it. The accord calls for “extensive future collaboration” between the two sides.
“It’s not just about the exchange of objects; it’s about the exchange and development of knowledge between a culturally rich county and a museum dedicated to the art and the culture of that country,” said Luis Li, a lawyer engaged by the Getty Trust to investigate a series of recent scandals at the institution and who attended the three days of talks in Rome. He declined to give specifics on the artifacts discussed.
One goal of the negotiations, he said, was to shift the discussion so that curators on one side of the ocean dealt directly with curators on the other rather than through lawyers and prosecutors. “That’s the collaboration we would like,” he said on Wednesday night.
In recent years Italy has been aggressively pursuing American museums to return contested objects. Apart from the landmark accord reached with the Met four months ago, negotiations are under way with the Princeton University Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Maurizio Fiorilli, a lawyer for the Italian government, confirmed that the Princeton and Boston museums were studying Italian claims to some of their artifacts and had shown “great openness” in “productive discussions.”
The Mission Statement of the Guggenheim Museum.
Emphasis in text is ours
From the Guggenheim Museum:
The mission of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is to promote the understanding and appreciation of art, architecture, and other manifestations of visual culture, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, and to collect, conserve, and study the art of our time. The Foundation realizes this mission through exceptional exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications, and strives to engage and educate an increasingly diverse international audience through its unique network of museums and cultural partnerships.
Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum; Sir John Boyd describes how the Trustees welcomed the new opportunities given to them by the Human Tissue Act (2004).
Emphasis in text is ours
From the British Museum Review:
Museum of the world for the world: London, United Kingdom and beyond.
British Museum Review
April 2004-March 2006
The Human Tissue act in 2005 gave national museums the power to transfer human remains out of their collections. The Trustees had long recognised that human remains from the modern period represent a special case, one raising particularly difficult issues. The Museum was fully and positively engaged in the process which lead to the drafting of the relevant clause of the new law.
The Trustees welcomed this new power. It enabled them for the first time to give serious consideration to claims on human remains in the collection. They published a policy on how such claims would be dealt with. In March 2006 they decided to meet a claim made for two cremation ash bundles from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre with the support of the Australian Government. After taking independent expert advice the Trustees came to the view that the cultural and religious importance of the cremation ash bundles to the Tasmanian aboriginal community outweighed any public benefit that would have flowed from their retention. They look forward to continuing to work with indigenous Australian communities in furthering the worldwide public understanding of Australian Aboriginal cultures, past and present.
Sir John Boyd
Chairman of Trustees 2002-2006
The Greek offer made to the British Museum for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos in November 2003.
Emphasis in text is ours
Excerpts from a speech by the Greek minister of Culture; Evangelos Venizelos given in London on 12th November 2002.
I wish to address the political dimensions of the issue. The Restitution of the Marbles is not a matter of contention between the Greek and the British side. Nor is it a claim that Greece presents for reasons of national cultural policy. It is a claim of the mutilated monument itself, which demands the reunification of its sculptural decoration.
Over many years the debate has referred to the historical and cultural aspects of the issue. Since 1997, during my previous term as Minister for Culture, I have proposed that the issue of the Marbles be dealt with on a different basis. Today it is not the issue of ownership of the Marbles that is of utmost significance, nor the discussion about the means by which the Marbles were removed and transported to London. Of greater significance is that a way be found for the restoration of the Parthenon’s sculptures to their natural place, within direct eye view of the monument of the Parthenon.
With the greatest respect to all British sensitivities – historical, cultural and legal – we propose that the restitution of the Marbles be carried out in the form of a long term loan from the British Museum to the New Acropolis Museum. We also propose that the on-going exhibition of the Parthenon Sculptures at the New Museum of the Acropolis be a joint cooperation between the two Museums. As part of the proposal, Greece offers to organise a series of important temporary exhibitions of Greek antiquity in the galleries of the British Museum.
I consider that this proposal goes well beyond the traditional, legal, and historical approaches, respects the institutional role of the British Museum, showcases the broader cultural cooperation of our two countries and sets the foundation for cooperation between the two Museums.
The official Greek position on the return of the Elgin Marbles.
From the Greek Ministry of Culture:
The official Greek position on the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens
1. The Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles (frieze sculptures) from London to their natural home, Athens, is not a nationalistic claim made by the Greek Government and the Greek people.
The Restitution of the Marbles and therefore the restoration of the Parthenon’s sculptural decoration is the claim of the mutilated Monument itself, according to the unforgettable Melina Mercouri.
2. The Marbles cannot be considered a moveable monument, as is the case of other important sculptures of antiquity (e.g. The Aphrodite of Melos or the Nike of Samothrace). They are inseparable parts of the Parthenon, the great immovable monument of classical antiquity, the most important architectural monument of the Classical period.
It is not at all coincidental that the Parthenon is itself the symbol of UNESCO, under the auspices of which our two countries have been engaging in continuous negotiation for the restoration of the Marbles.
3. The history of the removal of the Parthenon sculptures by Lord Elgin and their transportation to England during the last period of the Ottoman occupation of Greece is well known to all.
Even though the historic and legal dimensions of the issue are particularly important, the Greek Government does not place them at the centre of its argument.
4. Finding ourselves at start of the 21st century and basing ourselves on current views on the protection of our global cultural heritage and the principles of UNESCO, the Restitution of the Marbles to Athens should be, above all, approached with the political, historic, and cultural sensitivity befitting a country such as Great Britain.
5. Athens, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, is hosting the 2004 Olympic Games. The world’s attention will be turned to Athens.
6. Currently in Athens, at the foot of the Acropolis and in direct eye view of the Parthenon, the New Museum of the Acropolis is being built. A special hall will exhibit the Parthenon’s sculptural beauty in its entirety. The building which will house the museum was exquisitely designed by the renowned architect Bernard Tschumi.
7. Great Britain and Greece are both members of the European Union. The Restitution of the Marbles from London to Athens will constitute their transfer within the Single European Area.
8. In reality, if the marbles are not restituted, the inauguration of the Acropolis Museum and the special restoration of the large area of the Parthenon will demarcate the mutilated sculptures and bring to light the fact that many are absent.
9. Greece addresses Great Britain with the above points, and counts on Great Britain’s cultural sensibilities, and on the British people’s faith in the great humanistic values of antiquity.
10. Since 1997, Professor Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek Minister of Culture, has suggested to his British counterpart that the restitution of the Marbles be carried out in the form of a long-term loan, without addressing the issue of the ownership of the Marbles. The relative proposal was also sent to the current British Minister of Culture when she assumed office.
11. The proposal is that a long-term loan be agreed between the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum. Professor Dimitris Pantermalis, the President of the Organisation for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum addressed the relevant proposal to the Director of the British Museum. The proposal was renewed and addressed to the new Director of the British Museum. More specifically, the proposal envisions the exhibition of the Parthenon’s sculptures, in the large hall of the New Acropolis Museum, coming together as a joint project of the New Acropolis Museum and the British Museum.
12. In exchange for this co-operation, the Greek Government assumes the responsibility of organising important temporary exhibitions of Greek antiquities on the grounds of the British Museum. These temporary exhibitions, through extensive media coverage, will continually generate international public interest.
- British select committee oficials have visited Athens : June 27, 2007
- British Museum denies that there are any ongoing “secret talks” abot the Elgin Marbles : August 11, 2003
- Getty may return Greek artefacts : May 16, 2006
- Select committee findings on the Elgin Marbles : June 16, 2007
- Have the Greeks failed in their attempt to reclaim the Elgin Marbles? : December 17, 2006
- Could the return of the Elgin Marbles aid Scottish Museums? : February 29, 2004
- Talks planned between Greece & British Museum to discuss Parthenon Marbles : August 30, 2012
- Official respose to Select Committee enquiry : October 18, 2007