May 16, 2007

The new veiled marbles

Posted at 1:01 pm in Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

Peter Stothard continues his commentary on the Elgin Marbles, in anticipation of the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. In particular, he looks at the methods being used to differentiate between the marbles in Athens & casts of those in the British Museum.

Times Blogs

May 13, 2007
Elgin’s veils

Objects of uncontrollable, almost sexual, desire?

Or as alluring as old men in prison pyjamas?

When the new Acropolis Museum in Athens sets new grey-muslin-draped copies of the Elgin Marbles alongside its own original pieces (the bits of the Parthenon frieze which his lordship left behind) I’m not sure what the public verdict will be.

The Greek government is hoping that their bizarrely shrouded imitations of the famous carvings – from virginal worshippers to sacrificial cattle – will drive visitors wild when seen next to the real 5th century marble figures in their special new room (see previous post).

Alternatively tourists may wander past the ghostly gaps, wondering why, in the world capital most crowded with classical art, the pride of place goes to so many fakes garbed in grey.

This is the one surprising question from my preview of the long-awaited Greek plans to show their Acropolis treasures in a manner fit for the 21st century.

I had read about the proposed ‘shrine to absence’ – and of the firm response from local scholars that their latest protest at British policy was to be any such thing.

But I wasn’t expecting to hear that their replicas of Elgin’s collection in the British Museum would be half hidden by cheesecloth.

To some enthusiasts for old Greek glories these new veiled figures may prove as seductive as in the days when Emma Hamilton (above) entranced Nelson and Goethe (to name just two) using gauze and silk to clothe her statuesque cabaret of classical poses.

To others it may look plain ridiculous.

When will we begin to know?

The Observer newspaper reports today that we are ‘only months away from the opening’ of the new museum.

The present view of the site, certainly from my own experience of builders, suggests that the wait for this magnificent building may be a little longer, perhaps quite a lot longer.

Maybe even time to reconsider the muslin.

The Observer also reports new hope in Athens that Gordon Brown will change British policy – and put his own pressure on the British Museum trustees to give the Marbles back.

I am asked the same question. Surely, friends say, this is a great opportunity for Mr Brown to show his difference from Tony Blair and to go back to days when Neil Kinnock was the great Greek hope.

But I can’t see the man for whom the real Athens is Edinburgh falling for a stunt like this.

What about David Cameron, asks another anxious Greek questioner.

I try to say that most of the Conservative leader’s veils are still on – but the joke gets lost in translation.

Posted by Peter Stothard on May 13, 2007 at 15:12 in Comment

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