November 7, 2012

The Parthenon Marbles & cultural justice

Posted at 2:23 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Derek Fincham of the South Texas College of Law may be better known to some readers of this website as the author of the Illicit Cultural Property blog.

In a recently published paper, he looks at a series of principles that the British Museum & Greece could use together to secure a just return of the sculptures.

You can download the full paper at the page below, or with this link.

Social Science Research Network

The Parthenon Sculptures and Cultural Justice
Derek Fincham
South Texas College of Law
August 18, 2012

From government and philosophy to art drama and culture, the ancient Athenians, as most everyone knows, gave future generations so much. Yet the pinnacle of their artistic achievement, the Parthenon, remains a damaged and incomplete work of art. 2012 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the last removal of works of art from the Parthenon. That taking was ordered by an English diplomat known to history as Lord Elgin, and it reminds us that cultures create lasting monuments. But not equally. Cultures which remove the artistic achievements of other nations have increasingly been confronted with uncomfortable questions about how these objects were acquired. Nations of origin are increasingly deciding to press claims for repatriation of works taken long ago. They proceed through history mindful of the irresistible genius of their forebears have created and are unwilling to cease their calls for return.

The majority of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece now are currently on display in the British Museum in London. The Greek government and cultural heritage advocates, have been asking for reunification of these sculptures in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. Greece has offered a number of concessions, but the British Museum and the British Government have repeatedly refused to seriously discuss reunification.

Mounting pressure on the British Museum, and the inescapable fact that the Parthenon was an ancient unified work of art both mean that the Parthenon marbles will either eventually be returned to Greece or subject to an endless repatriation debate. Here I offer a series of principles which the Greeks and the British Museum can take to jointly create a just return. Because the way the British Museum and Greece resolve this argument will have much to say for the future of the management of our collective cultural heritage.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 63

Keywords: British Museum, Parthenon Marbles, Elgin marbles, antiquity, cultural heritage law, restitution, repatriation

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  1. wolfdancer said,

    11.07.12 at 2:56 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Parthenon Marbles & cultural justice by @derekfincham AKA Derek Fincham

  2. EJ Knapp said,

    11.07.12 at 3:30 pm

    EJ Knapp liked this on Facebook.

  3. grhluna25 said,

    11.07.12 at 4:13 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Parthenon Marbles & cultural justice by @derekfincham AKA Derek Fincham

  4. Artantiq said,

    11.07.12 at 4:32 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Parthenon Marbles & cultural justice by @derekfincham AKA Derek Fincham

  5. Djon Bridge said,

    11.10.12 at 2:22 pm

    I hesitate to take the other side of the Elgin Marbles question, because this site, by its nature, and the comments, by its likely audience, have already decided that all national or regional art and artifacts are “cultural treasures” of the peoples, or their ancestor, who fashioned them, and anyone else who may not possess them should give them back. I don’t see it that way. We are all humans, of exactly the same species. Human culture has been VERY brief, by any metric you choose — objects with what we would consider “artistic merit” date back less than 8,000 years, and most of them much less than that. I think they therefore belong to All Humanity. A preference should in fact be given to the progeny of the culture that created them. But not raised to the point of obsession. The Parthenon and surrounding objects have been severely damaged by Greek air pollution, Greek acid rain, Greek vandalism, and the relative absence of Green preservation measures of what are WORLD treasures. The “Elgin Marbles” have been the focus of Greek acquisitiveness precisely because they are FAR LESS DAMAGED than the monuments in the care of the Greek nation [how many of you have actually made the comparison from photos?] The “marbles in place” are a pale specter of what they were when Elgin started hacking away. They are better off where they are, until the Greek re-develop the level of civilization they once represented, and are able to care for their patrimony for the sake of all humankind. Otherwise, all this whining about Lord Elgin is just empty nationalism which focuses far more on “national pride” than an actual concern for world heritage.

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