Quote of the Day

You must not give away these things [the ancient statues], not even for ten thousand talers; you must not let them leave the country; it was for them we fought.

Ioannis Makriyannis, General in Greek war of independence

August 21, 2005

The museum & the empire

Posted at 12:46 pm in British Museum

Many of the greatest ethnographic collections in museums in Europe were created as a consequence of the empire building by various countries at that time. In many ways, the British Museum & the Louvre could be seen as archetypal examples of this trend.
Collectors traveled through countries such as Egypt & India taking whatever artefacts they could fins back with them. A new book by Maya Jasanoff looks at how the way in which these collectors operated could often be seen as a metaphor for the formation of the empire itself.

The Guardian

The collectors
Maya Jasanoff has discovered an entirely new dimension to our understanding of Britain’s imperial expansion in her study of European collectors, Edge of Empire, says Richard Gott
Saturday August 20, 2005
The Guardian

Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting on the Eastern Frontiers of the British Empire, 1750-1850
by Maya Jasanoff
416pp, Fourth Estate, £25

Each generation concerned with the history of the British empire seeks to reassess it according to the demands of changing attitudes and circumstances. Today’s emphasis on otherness and fusion, on border-crossing and multiculturalism, has favoured a revisionist and more benign recollection of the past, particularly noticeable in studies of 18th-century India. The stark vision in the historical kaleidoscope of imperial red banners confronted in battle by the green flags of Islam has given way to a more nuanced shade of grey.
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August 15, 2005

Preventing the trade in looted artefacts

Posted at 9:13 am in Similar cases

The trial of Marion True has brought the acquisitions by museums under public scrutiny. What we really need though, is a more organised way of tracing which artworks are of dubious provenance before they are acquired, so that they don’t even enter museums in the first place. High profile prosecutions against individual institutions might create attention, but they are of limited use at actually solving the problem.

The New Statesman

To catch a thief
Monday 15th August 2005
Observations on art treasures by Phil Chamberlain

When it comes to the search for ancient antiquities, forget Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Think instead about the Italian tombaroli. These poor labourers earn pennies raiding tombs for relics that are eventually sold overseas to museums and private collectors for thousands of pounds. Almost every country with ancient artefacts has its own tombaroli, stripping sites of treasure to feed a ready market in the west.
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August 13, 2005

Rise in Acropolis visitor numbers

Posted at 8:01 pm in Acropolis

Visitor figures for many monuments in Greece have risen for a number of reasons:
Currently the country is seen as a safer (with regard to terrorists) destination than Turkey, Italy or Spain (Its worth noting that British Museum visitor figures have dropped by 30% since the London bombings).
Greece & its monuments have had a lot of recent publicity from the Olympics held in Athens last summer.
Also, as a result of the Olympics, many monuments are now more accessible to the disabled than they ever were previously.

Kathimerini English Edition

Saturday August 13, 2005
Tourist numbers leap up
Expected double-digit rise confirms medium-term Olympics benefit


More tourists than ever are trekking up the Acropolis this year. After years of declining tourism revenues, Greece is bouncing back after the success of last year’s Olympics and more spending on advertising campaigns. The Games have also left a good legacy of better infrastructure, especially in Athens. The Acropolis is now accessible to the disabled via a small lift. However, Greece still suffers from many cases of substandard services in the tourism sector, which could leave visitors unhappy.
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August 4, 2005

The politics of global museums

Posted at 12:49 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

In this article which mainly focuses on African & Asian exhibits in Britain’s museums, a number of interesting points are made about how museums need to evolve to deal with changing times & a changing audience. In particular Jack Lohman of the Museum of London says: “Museums that present the culture of the world need to acknowledge the story by which those collections were acquired”.

New York Times

London Sees Political Force in Global Art
Published: August 4, 2005

PARIS, Aug. 3 – It was purely coincidental, but between the London bombings of July 7 and the failed bombings of July 21, a Commission on African and Asian Heritage appointed by London’s mayor issued its first report, “Delivering Shared Heritage,” which recommended ways of recognizing and integrating the contribution of black and Asian minorities to the life, culture and history of the city.
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Most visitors to Greek sites think that artefacts abroad should be returned

Posted at 12:44 pm in Elgin Marbles, Greece Archaeology

A recently released survey of visitors to Greek Archaeological sites give some interesting statistics. When asked whether they thought that artefacts held in foreign museums should be returned to Greece, 96.1% of Greeks felt that they should, with 84.7% of foreign visitors agreeing with this.

Athens News Agency

Thursday 4, August 2005
Foreigners feel safe visiting Greek museums and ancient sights, survey shows

The vast majority – 92.5 per cent – of foreigners feel absolutely safe when visiting Greece’s archaeological sites and museums, according to a survey released on Wednesday.

The survey was carried out using a sample of 2,718 Greeks and foreigners above 18 at the Athens Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum from June 26 until July 3. It was conducted by Greek Public Opinion on behalf of the Panhellenic Federation of Culture Ministry Associations.
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August 2, 2005

Turkish lawers file suit against British Museum

Posted at 8:42 pm in Similar cases

This case has appeared with very little warning (it was not previously a case that got much publicity compared to many other restitution cases) but looks like it will now be getting a lot more publicity. A group of Lawyers in Turkey are filing a lawsuit against the British Museum in the European Court of Human Rights. The reason for the suit is that they want the Halikarnassos Mausoleum to be returned to Turkey by the Museum.

Zaman (Turkey)

Turkish Lawyers File Suit Against British Museum Halikarnassos Mausoleum
By Erkan Acar
Published: Tuesday August 02, 2005

A campaign has been launched for the restitution of Turkey over the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos that was transported from Bodrum in southern Turkey to the British Museum 150 years ago.

A documentary was prepared and 30,000 signatures were collected within the framework of the campaign. A group of lawyers is now preparing to file a lawsuit against the British Museum in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Nearly 30 lawyers from Istanbul and Izmir together with the Bodrum Municipality along with various non-government organizations launched a campaign for the restitution of the Mausoleum transported to London in 1846. Read the rest of this entry »

Changes to the law planned following Feldmann case

Posted at 8:35 pm in Similar cases

Finally statements are emerging from the British Government about the long overdue changes to the law to allow artefacts looted by the Nazis to be de-accessioned from Britain’s museums & returned to their rightful owners. Clearly this planned change in the law is as a direct follow up to the recent court case that ruled that it was not possible to over rule the British Museum Act without a change in the law.
While this is all very positive, I still can not understand the logic behind a law that will treat events that occurred during one specific period in history differently from those that happened during any other – cases end up being judged not on their validity, but on when they occurred. To me (while I can see why the museum’s are pushing for the change to take this form) this is complete nonsense – If two people had items stolen, but for one the items were stolen by someone French & for the other they were stolen by an Italian (assuming all other circumstances were the same) then would one case be more deserving than the other?

BBC News

Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
New look at Nazi looted art law
Four Old Master drawings looted by the Nazis could be returned to their original owner by the British Museum under proposed changes to legislation.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is reviewing the law to make such returns legal.

Consultations on the legislation – which will be limited to items taken between 1933 to 1945 – will begin soon.
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The role of UNESCO in cultural disputes

Posted at 8:22 pm in Similar cases

An article in Cairo Magazine about the current request made by Egypt for the return of various artefacts adds a few points not covered by the previous articles.
Firstly, they look at the history of previous requests by Hawass for the return of artefacts. Secondly, the article looks at the way in which countries can work with UNESCO to resolve disputes & at what powers the organisation actually has in such cases.

Cairo Magazine

Thursday July 28, 2005
Stolen treasures
Zahi Hawass wants the Rosetta Stone back—among other things
By Henry Huttinger

Egypt is once again calling for the return of several celebrated antiquities currently on display in museums across Europe and America, including the Rosetta stone, the famous granite slab that was crucial in deciphering hieroglyphics.

The campaign to recuperate priceless artifacts taken by colonial powers is not new. But in recent weeks Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and the public face of archaeology in Egypt, has grown more strident in his demands in a campaign that coincides with a world tour of Egyptology’s favorite son, King Tutankhamun. Hawass has even threatened to shut down British and Belgian archaeological digs in Egypt if the artifacts are not returned.
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July 28, 2005

Axum Obelisk re-erection discussed with UNESCO

Posted at 1:17 pm in Similar cases

In many cases concerning repatriation of cultural treasures, the party currently holding the artefacts claims that if they are returned then they will not be looked after properly. Ethiopia is starting to prove that this will no be the case with the Axum Obelisk by consulting extensively with UNESCO about the best way to re-erect the Obelisk in its original location.

Sudan Tribune

Ethiopia to discuss historic obelisk re-erection with UNESCO
Thursday July 28th, 2005 00:16.
ADDIS ABABA, July 27, 2005 (Xinhua) — An Ethiopian delegation left for France on Wednesday to discuss ways of re-erecting the historic Axum obelisk with the United Nations.
The Axum obelisk, weighing 160 tons and standing 24 meters high, is around 1,700 years old and has become a symbol of the Ethiopian people’s identity. In 1937, the invaders of fascist Italy dismantled and took it on the orders of Benito Mussolini. Italy returned the monument to the northern ancient town of Axum in April.
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Germany wants Russia to return looted artefacts

Posted at 1:05 pm in Similar cases

Russia continues to hold a large amount of artefacts that they took from Germany during the Second World War. Germany also holds a number of Russian artefacts. In all the discussions between the two countries about the return of these items tat were looted relatively recently, there is never much discussion of how items such as Etruscan sculptures ended up in German Museums in the first place.

International Herald Tribune

Germany hankers for its heritage
By Judy Dempsey International Herald Tribune

POTSDAM, Germany When Chancellor Gerhard Schröder traveled to Moscow in May for the lavish celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Germany’s museum directors and curators hoped against hope that Russia would start returning the art plundered by the Red Army after it took Berlin in the spring of 1945.

“Somehow we hoped that once the celebrations in Moscow had taken place, we could reach a deal over getting the art back and that a new era would begin,” said Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. “I suppose we had been investing in that.”
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The virtual reunification of the Xiangtangshan Cave artefacts

Posted at 12:58 pm in Similar cases

The Xiangtangshan caves in China were once adorned with many sculptures & brightly coloured paintings that were removed in the early twentieth century to museums & private collections.
A new project intends to digitise the displaced sculptures & re-create the original appearance of the caves so that they can be viewed in three dimensions on a computer.
Despite what this article suggests, use of computers for this purpose is not entirely new, & there have already been digital composites made of the Parthenon which unify the sculptures from their varying locations & the building itself. Of course, with the Parthenon it is an easier task than it would be with some monuments, as the original positions of the sculptures are very clearly documented & set out.

Chicago Tribune

U. of C. project putting ancient pieces together
16th-Century temples in China to be seen in computer model
By Tran M. Phung
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 28, 2005

The Xiangtangshan Caves, comprising a dozen 6th-Century Buddhist cave temples south of Beijing, once contained elaborate altars adorned with sculpted limestone figures and bright paintings of gods and monsters.

But when the caves caught the interest of the international art market in the early 1900s, many of the artifacts were removed or badly damaged. Acid rain has eroded what remains.
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July 25, 2005

Early Day Motion on the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 1:03 pm in Elgin Marbles

Eddie O’Hara MP has tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament about the Parthenon Marbles. EDMs are a way in which members of parliament can both gauge the level of support for proposals. Eddie O’Hara has long been a supporter of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

Parliamentary Information Management Web Site

Early Day Motion
EDM 665

O’Hara, Edward

That this House is aware that the Parthenon sculptures currently displayed in the Elgin collection in the British Museum are integral architectural components of the Parthenon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Read the rest of this entry »