January 14, 2004

Marbles Reunited campaign calls for return of Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 1:46 pm in Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited, New Acropolis Museum

The Marbles Reunited campaign, launched today in London, sets out a clear agenda for why the marbles should be reunified in Athens.

The Scotsman

Wed 14 Jan 2004
6:25pm (UK)
Battle Renewed over Disputed Elgin Marbles
By Nell Raven, PA Features

Branded the “theft of the century” in some quarters, the Elgin Marbles controversy has created friction between Britain and Greece for almost 200 years.

Now the flames of the age-old dispute are being fanned again with the launch of a new campaign to return the 2,500-year-old relics to Greece.

Various groups which have been urging Britain to hand back the disputed items have come together under the new umbrella organisation, Marbles Reunited.

Marbles Reunited’s most prominent supporter Robin Cook said: “It’s as if someone had hacked off Nelson’s head and taken it abroad, and we were left with the stomach and the legs.”

The Elgin Marbles once formed part of a spectacular frieze depicting formal religious ceremonies of ancient Athens on the front of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon on the Acropolis.

In 1801, Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, had some of the finest works hacked, sawn off and shipped to Britain after apparently gaining permission from the Ottoman Turks who occupied Greece.

The British Museum then bought them for £35,000 in 1816 and the 56 treasures have remained there ever since.

Elgin’s act was denounced by Greece as theft and vandalism and over the last few years they have spearheaded an international campaign for the return of their own ‘crown jewels’.

The Greeks’ latest proposal is that the British Museum would loan them the sculptures, which they call the Parthenon Marbles, to form the centrepiece of a purpose – built Acropolis Museum in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

However the British Museum has said it still has no intention of handing them over, and the Government does not support the drive to have them returned.

In spite of this, the Marbles Reunited campaign claims the public is behind it. In a specially commissioned poll, 73% of people said they should be returned, while 81% supported the new proposals. With the debate hotting up, here are a few of the arguments for and against handing them back:

FOR: Peter Chegwyn, campaign director for Marbles Reunited, said: “The Parthenon is the most important symbol of Greek cultural heritage and the Greek State has a duty to preserve its cultural heritage in its totality, both for its citizens and for the international community.

AGAINST: Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “The sculptures are available in the British Museum to the public, free of entry charge, to a world audience of over 4.6 million visitors per year.

“In a new Acropolis Museum they would be part of a local museum with a particular focus on the history of ancient Athens.”

FOR: Chegwyn said: “The display of the sculptures at the British Museum is unsatisfactory because they appear as if they form a whole and they are exhibited on the inside of a wall. The new Acropolis Museum intends to re-house the Marbles and will make sure that these unique objects are seen at their greatest advantage and as close to their original position as possible.”

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “Centuries of damage have meant the Parthenon is a ruin and that only 50% of the original sculptures survive today. The surviving sculptures can never be re-connected to the building because the risk of further damage from weathering, pollution and earthquakes is too great. The best way forward is to employ 3D scanning and computer graphics to gain a more complete sense of how the whole might once have looked. This could also present the different hypothetical (and disputed) reconstructions. The British Museum has proposed such a project to all museums containing Parthenon sculptures in their collections, and a pilot project is under way. The Greeks have still to confirm their willingness to participate.

FOR: Chegwyn said: “The British Museum has always maintain the sculptures have been well cared for, but in the 1930s they were “cleaned” under the instruction of Lord Duveen who had the mistaken belief that they were originally “brilliant white”. The cleaning, which removed traces of colour and was carried out with wire brushes, copper tools and carborundum, caused serious and irretrievable damage that was admitted by the authorities of the Museum.

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “The majority of the sculptures are not on display at the Acropolis Museum, but are either in store and unavailable to the public, or still on the building and at risk from weathering and pollution.”

FOR: Chegwyn said: “The Parthenon Marbles are an integral part of a famous monument celebrating the achievements of free, democratic people and for that reason it is an important symbol to the whole world. That is why it is inconceivable that over half of its celebrated sculptural elements should be exhibited 2000 miles away from the rest and from the actual monument for which they were expressly designed and carved.”

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “The current division of the sculptures between 10 museums allows many different stories to be told and different aspects of the sculptures to be understood, especially the full importance of Greek culture in the widest possible world context.

“In the British Museum the Parthenon Sculptures are part of a world museum in which Greece’s cultural debts to Egypt, Assyria and Persia can be clearly seen, and the contribution of ancient Greece to the development of later cultural achievements in Europe, Asia and Africa can be fully understood”

FOR: Chegwyn said: “These architectural members were hacked off the monument without the consent of the Greek people, who at that time were still under the Ottoman occupation. Moreover, distinguished scholars have challenged the legality of the acquisition in recent years. Other evidence has also come to light showing that even the Ottoman authorities themselves queried Lord Elgin’s right to remove architectural parts from a building and ship them to Britain.”

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by the British Museum in 1816 with money voted by Parliament. The British Museum Trustees’ title to the objects is entirely secure under any European legal system. The Trustees’ duty is to hold the objects so as to secure maximum public benefit.”

4 National News

14 January 2004
Campaigners call for return of Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles, sculptures which once graced the pediments of the Parthenon in Athens, should be returned to the Greek capital to coincide with the Olympic games, according to a London-based campaign group.
The ‘Marbles Reunited’ campaign was launched in London today to put pressure on the government to reunite those sections of the Parthenon sculptures currently housed in the British Museum with sections remaining in their original home city of Athens.
Campaigners have proposed that the Marbles could remain in the ownership of the British Museum but be offered on loan to Greece – in exchange for other “priceless Greek antiquities” in return.
The sculptures once adorned the friezes and pediments of the Parthenon – a temple dedicated to Athene which was completed in around 439BC. The temple, and its sculpture, were created at the height of Athenian dominance over the eastern Mediterranean and was a monumental declaration of its wealth and power.
They remained in place surviving, though damaged during, Ottoman and Venetian invasions, until 1801 when Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, removed the sculptures and took them to England, where they have remained ever since.
The complex disputes over ownership (Elgin had removed the sculptures from the Sultan in possession of Athens at the time) and questions over the appropriate location for the Marbles in terms of tourism and conservation, have been re-ignited with the return of the Olympic Games to Greece – where it was first celebrated in 776BC.
Speaking at the launch of ‘Marbles Reunited’ at the ICA, The Mall, London, campaign spokesman Professor Anthony Snodgrass said: “For 200 years Britain and Greece have been locked in argument over the question of who owns the sections of the Parthenon Sculptures currently housed in London.
“This fresh initiative is seen by many as the best solution to this long-running dispute. It would enable the Parthenon Sculptures, a unique work of art that makes sense only as a whole, to be reunited and displayed in its original city of Athens for the first time in hundreds of years in the new museum at the foot of the Acropolis.”
However, the British Museum has countered, saying that the “best possible place for the sculptures” is in its current location.
Museum director Neil MacGregor said that the broad range of exhibit and comprehensive nature of the displays housed in London, provides for a “uniquely rich setting” for the Parthenon sculptures.
He added: “The Parthenon itself has been much damaged since antiquity. The restoration of the integrity of the building is thus an unachievable goal. Only about 50% of the original sculptures survive in a state fit for display, of which about half are in the British Museum. The other half are in Athens already.
“The British Museum is a truly universal museum of humanity, accessible to five million visitors from around the world every year entirely free of entry charge. Only here can the worldwide significance of the Parthenon sculptures be fully grasped.”
In support of the group’s position, an opinion poll commissioned by Marbles Reunited found that 73% of those surveyed believed that the British Museum should allow the Parthenon Sculptures to be reunited and displayed again in Athens.

Daily Telegraph

New Elgin marbles campaign launched
(Filed: 14/01/2004)

A new campaign to return the Elgin marbles to Greece has been launched in London.

Various groups which have been urging Britain to hand back the disputed relics have come together under the new umbrella organisation, Marbles Reunited.

The campaign aims to see the collection of sculptures, which has been housed in the British Museum for the last 200 years, returned to Athens.

The group wants to see the collection installed alongside the other surviving Parthenon sculptures in a purpose-built museum under construction in the Greek capital.

Marbles Reunited was unveiling a new plan to settle the issue at the campaign launch at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in central London.

The Greeks want the marbles to be reunited with other surviving sculptures for the start of the Athens Olympics. They have promised that other significant treasures will be brought from Greece for exhibition in Britain for the first time.

Talks about the future of the marbles are expected to take place over the next few weeks.

Lord Elgin brought the sculptures to the UK from Athens when he was British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and sold them to the British Museum in the early 1800s. They have remained in London ever since.

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