Quote of the Day

It [the New Acropolis Museum] will be the most modern archaeological museum in the world.

Kostas Karamanlis, Hellenic Republic Prime Minister

January 17, 2005

US troops claim that they “Saved” Babylon from looting

Posted at 1:25 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

In an interesting subversion of their normal roles in the arguments over cultural property the British Museum is taking the part of the Greeks by becoming the accuser temporarily & the US government / Army are playing the part of the British Museum. They are still using the old scripts though.
First of all, the British museum accuses the US of “Cultural Vandalism” because of their blatant disregard for preserving the heritage on the ancient site of Babylon in Iraq, a phrase that has often been used in reference to the marbles & is pretty much the definition of the French word Elginism.
Now in response the US are claiming that by occupying the site they were actually saving it & if they had not been their driving vehicles through it etc, then it would have been looted by the Iraqis themselves.
The argument that they were not destroying, but saving doesn’t sound any more convincing when the US says it.

Khaleej Times (Poland)

US, Polish troops ‘saved Babylon from looting’
17 January 2005

WARSAW – Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on Monday that contrary to a report by the British Museum, the presence of foreign troops in Babylon had saved the famous archaeological site for civilisation.

A British Museum report published at the weekend said US troops had caused “substantial damage” to the ancient city by setting up a military base amid the ruins in April 2003 after invading Iraq and toppling President Saddam Hussein.
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Stealing History

Posted at 2:55 am in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A new book is out about the history of looting of ancient sites.

The Boston Globe

Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
By Roger Atwood

St. Martin’s, 337 pp., illustrated, $25.95

The looting of antiquities has been such a ubiquitous practice that it becomes noteworthy only when it reaches truly brazen proportions, as when Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, stripped the Parthenon of its sculptures or when, 200 years later, Iraqi opportunists raided ancient archeological sites while the bombs of “shock and awe” were still falling.
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A bone to pick with museums

Posted at 2:22 am in Similar cases

The Times is arguing that the science will suffer as a result of human remains in museums being repatriated to their country of origin.

The Times

January 16, 2005
A bone to pick with museums
Returning collections of human remains to their home countries may sound noble, but science will suffer as a result, writes Tiffany Jenkins

Museums are the storehouses of history: collections that help to shine a light on the past. Amid their myriad objects are many curiosities, including human remains, which add detail to our impressions of how people once lived on the other side of the world. They also reveal how cultures were viewed and often misrepresented by the European explorers who “discovered” them 200 or more years ago.
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Cultural Vandalism

Posted at 2:05 am in British Museum, Similar cases

As was anticipated by many people well before any land forces entered the country, the “liberation” of Iraq has caused huge amounts of damage to many ancient sites, none more so than that of Babylon, according to a report produced by the British Museum.

The Guardian

Cultural vandalism

Saturday January 15, 2005
The Guardian

The damage wrought by the construction of an American military base in the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon must rank as one of the most reckless acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory. And all the more so because it was unnecessary and avoidable.

The camp did not have to be established in the city – where the Hanging Gardens, one of the seven wonders of the world, once stood – but given that it was, the US authorities were very aware of the warnings of archaeologists of the historic importance of the site. Yet, as a report by Dr John Curtis of the British Museum makes clear, they seem to have ignored the warnings.
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January 15, 2005

Return of Maori Heads

Posted at 6:21 am in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

On the back of the agreement by the Perth (Scotland) museum to return two Maori heads in its collection, the Guardian has an interesting article comparing the differences & similarities between other restitution cases.

The Guardian

January 13, 2005
The artefacts of life
Perth Museum’s decision to return two tattooed Maori heads, known as toi moko, to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, raises the age-old debate over the repatriation of artefacts from museums to their countries of origin.

The much simplified argument goes something like this: (Original owners) That is ours, you took it when you pillaged our country during your imperialist campaign and it means far more to us than it does to you. Give it back. (Museum) We recognise it was yours but we have it now and in the interests of people learning about global culture it’s better that it stays in an internationally renowned collection such as ours. We won’t give it back. Won’t, won’t, won’t.
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January 13, 2005

Aborigines to take legal action against UK museums

Posted at 2:33 pm in Similar cases

The Aboriginals have managed to achieve the return of a lot of the human remains held in the UK. However, now they are potentially going to take legal action against some of the largest UK institutions who are still refusing to return anything.

Sydney Morning Herald

UK museums face court for kept remains
January 13, 2005 – 12:25PM

Aboriginal groups were on the brink of taking legal action against some of Britain’s great museums which could cost them huge and historic international collections unless they return the remains of generations of Aborigines to Australia.

Many British institutions have been returning body parts over the past decade, but several of the largest and most prestigious, such as London’s Museum of Natural History and Duckworth Laboratory in Cambridge, continue to refuse to release remains.
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British Museum to lend Cyrus Cylinder to Iran

Posted at 2:32 pm in British Museum

The British Museum has agreed to lend the Cyrus Cylinder (possibly the first declaration of human rights) to Iran for two years for an exhibition (in return Iran is lending a large number of items to the British Museum for an exhibition about ancient Persia).


British Museum to Loan Cyrus Cylinder to Iran for 2 Years

Tehran, Jan. 12 (Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency)—After its renovation process is finished, Iran’s National Museum will be the host of Cyrus Cylinder for 2 years.

In a special exhibition in Iran’s National Museum, Cyrus Cylinder will be displayed along with other Iranian artifacts in possession of the biggest museums around the world.

The so-called Cyrus Cylinder, widely believed to be the first manifesto of human rights written over 2,000 years ago, by the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, details the conquest of the Babylon of Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar by the 6th century BC Persian king, Cyrus the Great.
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January 11, 2005

Heidelberg’s piece of the Parthenon

Posted at 5:24 pm in Elgin Marbles

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture have issued a press release on the proposed return of the fragment of the Parthenon Marbles currently held by the Heidelberg University.

Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Athens, 09.01.2006

Today, on Monday 9th January 2006, a meeting was held between the Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Mr. Kostas Karamanlis, the Deputy Minister of Culture Mr. Petros Tatoulis and the Vice-rector of the University of Heidelberg Mr. Angelos Chaniotis, in order to announce the return to Athens of a fragment belonging to the Parthenon’s Frieze from the aforementioned University.

Mr. Chaniotis informed the Prime Minister that the fragment, which represents a male figure’s foot from the N. Frieze of Parthenon, is going to be returned to Greece, given the fact that a positive recommendation has been addressed to the Rectorate by the Institute of Classical Archaeology, the Director of which is Mr. T. Hölscher.
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January 9, 2005

Mary Elgin

Posted at 7:39 pm in Elgin Marbles

Although we hear a lot about Lord Elgin, far less is known about his wife, Mary Elgin. But she played a key role in the removal of the Parthenon Marbles, as it was her money that made it possible for Lord Elgin to carry out these acts.
A new biography examines her life & includes so interesting unpublished letters about Lord Elgin’s acquisition of the Marbles.

Sunday Herald (Scotland)

Mary’s Elgin marble effect
By Stephen Lloyd

In 1921 the National Gallery of Scotland accepted the bequest of an important group of 29 oil paintings by Mrs Nisbet Hamilton Ogilvy of Biel, a wealthy landowner in East Lothian.

Among them was a portrait by Baron François Gérard showing a determined and vivacious young woman staring directly at the viewer. Painted in Paris in 1803, the woman is fashionably dressed with a pleated white ruff and a black gown embroidered with gold. She wears a Greek or Turkish style of necklace from which a thumper of a rock adorns her décolletage. Such ostentatious jewellery and luxuriant dress reveal a woman of considerable wealth and taste. The sitter was the 25-year-old Mary Nisbet of Dirleton, one of the wealthiest heiresses in Scotland, and wife of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, ambassador to the Ottoman empire and grand acquisitor of ancient marbles. The remarkable and little-known story of her life and key role in the extraction of the Athenian antiquities is told with zest by American writer Susan Nagel.
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The Venus De Milo – The French Elgin Marbles?

Posted at 7:27 pm in Similar cases

In the early 19th century, during & after the Napoleonic wars there was a fierce rivalry between the French & British to prove who was the superior country.
With the British acquisition of the Elgin Marbles, France had no comparable landmark artwork that could be perceived as equivalent.
A new book documents the acquisition, as well as how it was more recently realised to be of a later date than first thought & therefore not of such artistic significance.

The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times – Books
January 09, 2005

Art: The Story of the Venus de Milo by Gregory Curtis
DISARMED: The Story of the Venus de Milo
by Gregory Curtis

Sutton £19.99 pp247

Although armless and made of marble, the Venus de Milo was once regarded as the model of female physical perfection. Today, however, we would probably find her waist too thick, and her bust too big. At 6ft 7in, she is also too tall. Nevertheless, she remains one of the world’s most famous sculptures and, apart from the Mona Lisa, the world’s most well-known representation of a woman.
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December 24, 2004

Lord Duveen

Posted at 9:20 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

It would be no exaggeration to say that Lord Duveen made a huge contribution to the British art world in the 20th century. Not only was he responsible for the funding of numerous galleries, but his methods of dealing in artworks largely defined the way that the art market operates today.
However, with his wealth & power he was free to inflict his own opinions on how things ought to be done & people desperate for the money would often ignore other ethical concerns in their pursuit of his funding. This is what happened during the building of the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum, where his insistence on whitening the sculptures to match his view of how they should look lead to the Elgin Marbles cleaning controversy in the 1930s.
A recent biography & play look at the life of the greatest collector of the 20th century.


Thu., December 23, 2004 Tevet 11, 5765
Buying high, selling higher
By Michael Handelzalts
Taking advantage of the fact that Europe had art and America had money, art dealer Joseph Duveen became a legend in his time and created, almost single-handedly, the collections of the great U.S. museums. A recent biography and a new play shed light on his dramatic and colorful life.

Even now, at the outset of the third millennium, after September 11 and after the world’s stock exchanges have crashed more than once, some works of art – those that turn up occasionally and are not in museums – continue to command prices of hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in auctions. However, most of the sales are made by the large auction houses and the buyers insist on anonymity. In the midst of all this, the art dealer, who brokers between price and soul and knows how to turn a picture into money, remains in the shadows. It is doubtful whether, other than in the auction house and the circles of anonymous collectors, there is a character as gargantuan and colorful as Joseph Duveen (1869-1939), who dominated the international art market in the first half of the 20th century.
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December 12, 2004

Tatoulis balks at Acropolis costs

Posted at 5:54 pm in Acropolis

He might have accepted that the Acropolis Museum is now going to be built, despite his earlier opposition to the project. However, Petros Tatoulis the Deputy Culture Minister is still unhappy with the amount that is being spent on the restoration of the Acropolis monuments.


Saturday December 11, 2004
Tatoulis balks at Acropolis costs

Confirming reports of funding cuts for the Acropolis conservation and restoration work, the Culture Ministry said yesterday that budgeting for the marathon project had to be “rationalized” and rendered “credible.”

Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis, who is on a visit to Albania, said he was unhappy with the planning and budgeting by archaeologists and architects leading the massive project — which started in 1975.
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