January 25, 2006

Should the marbles be put back on the Parthenon?

Posted at 11:01 pm in Elgin Marbles

This slightly ridiculous response to Anthony Snodrgrass’s earlier letter appeared in the Times today. The Author seems to think that the case is entirely about who has the title of ownership, whereas the context & the reunification are far more important issues. He also shows little knowledge of the New Acropolis Museum; a space specifically designed to hold the marbles & carefully related to the proportions & orientation of the Parthenon – something that cannot be said of the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum.
He then goes on to say that they should have been left on the building & replaced as required, in the same way as happens to the sculptures on some cathedrals. This point neglects the importance of the marbles from a both a historical & cultural point of view. The cathedral sculptures that he describes are usually replace as part of a general system of maintenance to the building, the replacement of them has always been part of the tradition. Although their haven been many modifications to the Parthenon, this regular replacement of damaged sculptures has never been a part of the tradition of the building.

The Times

Letters to the Editor
The Times
January 25, 2006
Elgin’s bits of the Parthenon

Sir, Professor Snodgrass (letter, Jan 21) advocates removing the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum while the museum retains title of ownership.

It would of course be equally valid to suggest that the British Museum could transfer title of ownership while retaining the Marbles in London. However, neither approach really improves anything.

Likewise, the cost of transferring the Marbles requires some advantage to be gained from the transfer. As I understand, the intention is merely to rehouse the Elgin Marbles in another equally artificial surrounding and a situation little different from now.

Some may say that to reunite the Marbles with other related fragments is sufficient reason to move them but such a simple collating task could equally well be achieved by moving them all to London, New York or anywhere else.

A radical and forward approach that could only happen in Athens would be to plan a joint restoration of the entire Parthenon to its pre-Ottoman condition and thereby include as many of the original masonry parts as possible within their original settings. Unavoidable gaps might be filled with newly crafted copies of such original designs as can be researched.

This replacement approach has been used very successfully to maintain and preserve our English medieval cathedrals on a continuous basis since they were built. That a particular carved stone has been replaced once or twice by new stone over the past 1,000 years or so does not in any way detract from the splendour of the usually well-maintained whole.

No cathedral maintainer would consider removing a large section of stonework and displaying it in a different building some distance away from the original site, as the Greeks now propose for the Marbles.

A Parthenon building restoration approach would gain the support of many who currently prefer to see the Marbles, saved as they were by Elgin from almost certain total destruction, safely here in England, and I commend the idea to Professor Snodgrass for his consideration, should he prefer not to spend the next 200 years fretting over the location of Elgin’s Marbles.

Purley, Surrey

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