Quote of the Day

Blind are the eyes that do not shed tears while seeing, O, Greece beloved, your sacred objects plundered by profane English hands that have again wounded your aching bosom and snatched your gods, gods that hate England's abominable north climate.

Lord Byron, poet; Childe Harod

May 12, 2005

British Museum will loan items to museums when it wants to

Posted at 1:33 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

For the last few years, the Greek request for the return of the Elgin Marbles has altered from the original claim that disputed the legality of ownership & wanted full ownership rights given to Greece. As a way of getting around the anti-deaccessioning clauses in the Museums Act, in addition to their rejection of any claims of ownership, they have said that they would be willing to accept the Marbles on permanent loan. However the British Museum has still rejected such requests, even though they can not fall back onto their previous reasoning that the Museums Act is what is preventing them.
However, there are many other examples of them giving items to other museums on very long term loans (effectively what Greece is asking for). The article below covers just one of many examples.

Yorkshire Evening Post

11 May 2005
A gift to the gods…and a godsend for museum
Bronze Age sword takes centre stage in £250,000 revamp


A Bronze Age sword, possibly cast away 3,000 years ago as a tribute to the Gods, has been returned to its Yorkshire home.
The ancient blade is the centrepiece of an exciting new exhibition at Scarborough Castle following a £250,000 investment by English Heritage to transform the 12th century fortress into a world class tourist attraction.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 10, 2005

Former editor of The Times re-iterates his support for return of the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 1:50 pm in Elgin Marbles

Sir Simon Jenkins, the former editor of The Times, & long time writer for the paper wrote about the Elgin Marbles in a leader some years ago. In his last day at the paper (before moving to the Guardian) he uses his final article to discuss many of the previous issues that he has argued for, including the Elgin Marbles. An indication that although he may not have written about them since then, he still feels strongly about the issue.

The Times

(Only relevant portion of article is included)

If I upset readers (as I did) in preferring Cervantes to Einstein, I again apologise. But I shall always worship Don Quixote of La Mancha. Beneath his bucket helmet and battered breastplate I have championed such lost causes as local self-government at home and non-intervention abroad. I have preached the United Nations Charter on national sovereignty to no effect. I defended just wars in the Falklands and Kuwait and opposed unjust ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have hated bombers, Canada geese, crime statistics, faction movies and the Health and Safety Executive. I have championed GM foods, Belfast City Council, risk autonomy and the return of the Elgin Marbles. If I am an ethical “relativist” it is because I cannot see how a democrat can be anything else. Moral absolutism is for simpletons and tyrants.

May 8, 2005

Duveen & the cleaning of the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 6:06 pm in Elgin Marbles

Since the late 1990’s there has been a lot of discussion over the cleaning of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum in the 1930s, carried out under the instruction of Lord Duveen.
In his review of a new book on Renaissance art, Waldemar Januszczak looks at the accumulated misunderstandings & misinterpretations through history that led Duveen to this belief that by cleaning the marbles he was restoring them to the way their creators had intended them to be.

Sunday Times

The Sunday Times – Books

May 08, 2005

Art: The Mirror of the Gods
THE MIRROR OF THE GODS : Classical Mythology in Renaissance Art
by Malcolm Bull Allen

Lane £30 pp352

If I have worked out correctly the genealogy of these things — and when you are dealing with the gods the genealogy is fiendishly complex — then Picasso’s appropriation of classical imagery during his bulky- goddesses phase was essentially a revival of a revival of a revival of a revival of a revival. One of the few certainties available in the study of the gods is that they are persistent. We’re stuck with them. Another is that they ceased, many metamorphoses ago, several revivals back, to impinge on our reality in any practical or meaningful way. Once they were found in temples and at pilgrimage sites. But for most of their history they have existed exclusively in our dreams. Which is why they are so critical. And why Malcolm Bull has been tempted by them into mounting his magnificent hunt for their true Renaissance identity.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 3, 2005

Repatriation & Museums

Posted at 5:18 pm in Elgin Marbles

The Assistant director of the Benaki Museum in Athens has now given a lecture in Sydney, Australia about the Greek efforts to repatriate the Parthenon Marbles.

Sydney Morning Herald

Beautiful to look at, and then to return
May 4, 2005

Repatriation is a hot topic in museums, writes Alexa Moses.

Like a doting parent, Dr Stavros Vlizos doesn’t play favourites. All of the 163 figurines, ceramics, toys, icons, weapons, paintings and jewellery in the exhibition Greek treasures: from the Benaki Museum in Athens are his babies.

“They are all important – we brought the most representative and qualitative items,” the assistant to the Benaki Museum’s director says. As he walks around the Powerhouse Museum exhibition, he lovingly describes the pieces, including a marble female figurine from between 2700 and 2300 BC and an exquisite gold cup from 15th century BC decorated with three galloping dogs. Vlizos is in Sydney to launch the exhibition. He’s also here to campaign for some other objects he loves.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 1, 2005

The systematic looting of Italian antiquities

Posted at 4:20 pm in Similar cases

Greece may have had serious problems with looting of archaeological sites, but at least they have not had a Prime Minister like Berlusconi who wants to make the possessors of all looted artefacts within the country the legitimate owners at discount rates. I’d imagine that a lot of people are already buying up as much looted work as they can in anticipation of this change in the law so that they can then sell it on legally at market prices.

The Independent

The great smash and grab
01 May 2005

Italy is a treasure trove of buried antiquities. But now they are being systematically plundered by illegal tomb-raiders, who operate with virtual impunity. Rose George follows the loot from the hills of Lazio to London’s thriving black market

In an ordinary living-room in an ordinary, small Italian town, a young man shows off an ashtray. “Nice, isn’t it?” says “Gianni”, who prefers not to reveal his real name. The “ashtray” is a terracotta-coloured dish, painted around the rim, cracked and repaired. It looks nothing special, but it is, because it’s about 2,600 years old, because it was looted at night from a tomb in a field nearby, and because by keeping it on his mother’s sideboard, Gianni and his mother are criminals.
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April 30, 2005

Should looted artwork be returned to its rightful owners?

Posted at 12:00 pm in Similar cases

In response to the return of the Axum Obelisks to Ethiopia (covered in detail over the last month) the Boston Globe has an interesting article about other similar looted items, & points out that looting is still very much a current problem, not just a historical phase, as evidenced after the fall of Baghdad.

The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe
Return looted treasures to their rightful owners

By Grant Parker | April 30, 2005

LAST WEEK a cargo jet brought the first part of a 1,700-year-old Ethiopian pillar from Italy to its historic home in the city of Axum. The return of this treasure has great significance, not just for the Italian and Ethiopian governments, but for cultural property disputes worldwide.
Many, in Ethiopia and beyond, have welcomed its return. It ends decades of public outcry against successive Italian governments since Mussolini had the pillar — generally referred to as an obelisk but more correctly called a stele — brought from Axum in 1937, during the Italian wartime occupation.
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April 29, 2005

Sponsors may be invited to pay for Acropolis restoration works

Posted at 1:34 pm in Acropolis

In a change to the longstanding previous policy of trying to fund the entirety of the Acropolis restoration themselves, the Greek Government is now suggesting that private sponsors could also contribute money towards the restoration works. Quite possibly part of the cutbacks on spending that are facing many of the Greek government departments at present.


Friday April 29, 2005
Sponsors may be invited to pay for Acropolis works
Government says project will take another 16 years, 70 million euros

Dismayed by spiraling costs and a seemingly open-ended completion schedule for conservation works on Greece’s most iconic archaeological site, the government is thinking of seeking private sponsorship to expedite the Acropolis project.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 28, 2005

Deputy director of Benaki Museum to speak in Sydney about efforts to return Elgin Marbles

Posted at 5:51 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Deputy director of Benaki Museum Stavros Vlizos is speaking at this conference in Sydney on Tuesday 3rd May about the efforts to repatriate the Elgin Marbles.

Sydney Morning Herald

Museum talks: fun and war
By Alexa Moses
April 29, 2005

Lord of the Rings or Uzbekistani embroidery? No prizes for guessing which recent exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum attracted more visitors.

The balance between scholarship and audience appeal is one of the topics 450 international and Australian museum experts will grapple with at Museums Australia’s national conference, Politics and Positioning, which begins in Sydney on Sunday. Museums Australia is the professional association for museum and gallery workers. Read the rest of this entry »

April 27, 2005

Belgium museum to return limestone relief to Egypt

Posted at 12:47 pm in Similar cases

A museum in Brussels has announced that it going to return a relief that was smuggled out of Egypt 30 years ago.

Egypt Election

Ancient Egypt: EGYPT – The Mystery of the Lost Antiquities
Posted on Tuesday, April 26 @ 22:25:38 EDT
Topic: Ancient Egypt Information
The unceasing mysteries of Egypt’s antiquities
Brussels museum is to return a stolen 5th dynasty relief

CAIRO: A Brussels museum will hand over to Egypt a limestone relief that had been smuggled out of the country more than 30 years ago, an Egyptian antiquities official said Monday.

The Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, Belgium, agreed to return the relief, which was stolen from the Giza tomb of a 5th dynasty priest, Senenu, said Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. In return, an archaeological mission belonging to the museum will be allowed to continue its work in Egypt, he said.
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April 25, 2005

Final piece of Axum Obelisk arrives in Ethiopia

Posted at 8:05 pm in Similar cases

At last, this chapter in the history of the Axum Obelisk is closed. There is still debate going on within Ethiopia about whether it can be re-erected in its original location, or whether this may cause other complications.

As I have mentioned previously, the Ethiopians are now turning their efforts to other treasures that have been taken from their countries in the past.

The Guardian

3rd Piece of Axum Obelisk Back in Ethiopia
Monday April 25, 2005 10:46 AM

Associated Press Writer

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – The third and final piece of the Axum obelisk was returned to Ethiopia from Italy on Monday, as thousands cheered the end of an almost 70-year dispute over a symbol of African civilization stolen by European troops as a war prize.

“This is the land of the Queen of Sheba, and the obelisk belongs here,” said Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giogis, wiping tears of joy from his eyes. “I never thought I would be alive to see its return.”
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Are antique dealers stealing the past or preserving it?

Posted at 8:00 pm in Similar cases

A fascinating article about the ethics of collectors / dealers of artworks & cultural artefacts & whether or not they are able to take the moral high ground in their belief that they are preserving rather than destroying the works.

Reason Online

April 2005
Ancient Treasures for Sale
Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?

Steven Vincent

As you read this, criminals somewhere in the world are destroying portions of mankind’s past. With backhoe and shovel, chainsaw and crowbar, they are wrenching priceless objects from sites in the mountains of Peru, the coasts of Sicily, and the deserts of Iraq. Brutal and uncaring, these robbers leave behind a wake of decapitated statues, mutilated temples, and pillaged trenches where archaeologists were seeking clues to little-understood civilizations. The results of this looting include disfigured architectural monuments, vanished aesthetic objects, and an incalculable loss of information about the past. And it shows no signs of diminishing.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 23, 2005

British Museum agrees to loan of Ethiopian holy Tabots

Posted at 12:04 pm in Similar cases

The Ethiopians appear to be doing rather well at reclaiming their heritage at the moment.
Following on from various articles last year about how the Tabots were locked away in the Museum store, where not even the director was allowed to see them, they are now leaving the museum on (permanent?) loan to an Ethiopian church in London.

The British Museum is also co-operating on the development of new museums in Ethiopia.

I’m assuming that this announcement has little to do with the requests made by the Ethiopians earlier this week for the return of various cultural treasures, as this has to have been under discussion for a long time before that. Something seems a bit odd about the timing though, that the two events should occur in such close succession – In some ways it negates the Ethiopians request, as it appears that the BM is doing something to respond to it, whereas if they had made their request a few days later, it could have instead ridden on the back of the publicity surrounding the loan of the Tabots, to highlight how many other items still remained in the museum.

Is this a sign of a softening in approach by the British Museum towards the repatriation of cultural treasures?

The Art Newspaper

Holy tabots to be transferred from British Museum to Ethiopian church
The works will probably never return to the museum

LONDON. The British Museum has agreed to transfer its Ethiopian tabots (or holy tablets) to a church in London. Later this year the Ethiopians are expected to take over a redundant Anglican church, and a crypt or secure room will then be set aside to house the symbolically-charged wooden objects, which represent the Ark of the Covenant. The museum has agreed to a five-year extendible loan and the tabots may well never again return to the museum. The arrangement has the blessing of the Patriarch, Abba Paulos.
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