June 15, 2009

The Elgin Marbles Loan that never was

Posted at 9:23 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

More coverage of Greece’s statements that rejected any potential loan deal on the Elgin Marbles if the likely preconditions from the British Museum were part of the package.

The Guardian

Greek fury at Elgin marbles ‘loan deal’
Queen turns down invitation to opening of major new museum in Athens built to house Acropolis treasures
Helena Smith, Athens
The Observer, Sunday 14 June 2009

A bitter new row over ownership of the Elgin marbles has erupted, threatening to eclipse the inauguration this week of a major new museum in Athens designed to house the contested masterpieces.

Just days before the opening of the €130m (£110m) New Acropolis Museum, officials in Athens and London were this weekend engaging in barbed exchanges over the classical treasures.

The dispute, which has indirectly dragged in the Queen, the Greek-born Duke of Edinburgh, and Gordon Brown, re-erupted when Hannah Boulton, the British Museum’s spokeswoman, told an Athens radio station that it would consider a loan request from Greece provided that it acknowledged, as is customary with all borrowing institutions, that London owned the pieces. The sculptures, she said, could be displayed in the New Acropolis Museum for three or four months, “the length of time for an average loan of objects”.

Antonis Samaras, Athens’s culture minister, rejected the proposal, saying that acceptance would be tantamount to legitimising “Elgin’s deeds”. “Three months won’t be enough to take them out of their boxes,” he said, giving the Observer a guided tour of the concrete and glass museum. “As a time frame, it’s bizarre. And agreeing to the condition [of ownership] would be like sanctifying [Lord] Elgin’s deeds and legitimising the theft of the marbles and the break-up of the monument 207 years ago. No Greek government could accept that.”

But he added: “For the first time, they are opening a window. They see they have to do something, now that the new museum is here.”

As the row raged, Boulton sent out damage limitation emails. To the Observer, she wrote: “It’s not the case that an offer to lend the Parthenon Sculptures was specifically made … It is clear from Mr Samaras’s statement that he does not recognise the British Museum’s legal ownership of the sculptures in our collection, which makes any meaningful discussion on loans virtually impossible.”

Celebrities, royals and heads of state are expected to attend Saturday’s inauguration of the museum, built within sight of the Parthenon, at the foot of the Acropolis. However, delegates from Britain, including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, have been quick to send their regrets. Last week, Gordon Brown declined his invitation. Ben Bradshaw, the new secretary for culture and sport, followed suit, as did Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. It has been left for two British Museum curators to represent the UK.

The new museum’s top level – the luminous Parthenon galleries – house copies of the monumental sculptures that depict the Panathenaic procession, the decorative frieze which adorned the temple until Lord Elgin removed much of it during his tenure as British ambassador to the Ottoman Porte. Bankrupted by the venture, Elgin sold the pieces to the British government, which presented them to the British Museum in 1816.

Yesterday, archaeologists removed protective cellophane from plaster-cast copies that Athens acquired from the British Museum in 1840. “Most museums like to cover copies with a patina to make them look more real, but we have taken a very different approach,” said Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, the archaeologist in charge of the museum. “We want to show that these are indeed copies, that we are not afraid of plaster. That the real ones are somewhere else.”

For the Greeks, the museum – designed by Bernard Tschumi and co-sponsored by the EU – is the ultimate propaganda tool. They say the building will do away with the argument that Athens has nowhere good enough to house the wonders of its golden age.

Pressure to return the marbles will also come from the thousands expected to gather at the foot of the Acropolis to demand the “immediate return of the looted and mutilated Parthenon sculptures” on the eve of the opening.

Daily Express

Sunday June 14,2009
By Helena Smith in Athens and Hilary Douglas in London

GREECE has raised the diplomatic stakes over the disputed Elgin Marbles by rejecting an offer to put them on ­display for three months in Athens.

An end to the 200-year wrangle seemed to be on the cards when the British Museum said it might be prepared to lend the sculptures to the new Acropolis Museum so long as the UK maintained ownership.

But Greek Culture Minister Antonis Samaras rejected the olive branch, saying to accept would mean that the marbles, removed from the Parthenon in 1802 by British ambassador Lord Elgin, did not belong to the Greeks.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express just days before the new museum opens, he said: “Three months won’t be enough to take them out of their boxes.

“And agreeing to the condition of British ownership would be like sanctifying Elgin’s deeds and legitimising the theft of the marbles and the break-up of the monument 207 years ago. No Greek government could accept that.”

Mr Samaras added that the £130million museum complex would “demolish the charge that we don’t have a proper place to display and preserve the sculptures”.

In return for the marbles, Greece would supply the UK with a merry-go-round of antiquities from all eras to ensure that the transition was “as painless as possible” and that British scholarship did not suffer as a result.

Demonstrators have vowed to embarrass British officials attending the opening ceremony.

Campaigner Alexi Mantheakis said: “If Britain could give back India, it can certainly empty one room in the British Museum. With the opening of the new museum there can be no more excuses.”

But a spokeswoman for the British Museum said: “Any loan is based on the precondition that the recipient recognises the legal title and ownership of the British Museum. Since they don’t recognise our ownership, that makes this almost impossible.

“One of the arguments often directed at us is that we say there is nowhere to display the marbles in Athens. We have never said this and I am sure the new museum will be wonderful.”


Greece Holds Firm while Britain Bends on Acropolis Marbles
Saturday June 13, 2009

In what could be the beginning of the end for the “captivity” of the Acropolis/Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, museum authorities in London have suggested they might be open to “lending” the disputed sculptures to the New Acropolis Museum for a short time to celebrate its opening next week.

Greece has responded that that’s just not good enough and that accepting the loan would essentially recognize the British Museum’s legal right to ownership of the marbles.

The British don’t want that “right” examined too closely. Even Lord Elgin’s original agreement with the Ottoman Pasha doesn’t clearly state that he was welcome to take them back home with him.

So, in the meantime, the beautiful floor which has been put aside for the permanent return of the marbles will remain empty.

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