Quote of the Day

I hope that I will see the Marbles back in Athens before I die; but if they come back later I shall be reborn.

Melina Mercouri, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

June 18, 2005

Care of the Elgin Marbles & museum opening hours

Posted at 6:38 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following on from the letter in The Times last week connecting the return of the Elgin Marbles with Britain’s 2012 Olympic Bid, there is a response claiming that what Elgin did was right as otherwise the marbles would not have survived.
This does not explain the high quality of the newly cleaned & restored frieze sections that went on display in the Acropolis Museum last year.

The Times

June 16, 2005
Marbles not lost
From Mr Paul Chishick

Sir, If the Reverend Dr Nicholas W. S. Cranfield (letter, June 10) advocates the adoption of the Ancient Greek codes of xenia (hospitality), surely Lord Elgin’s actions are entirely justified? As we see in the Odyssey, the principal purpose of travel for nobles of the Homeric Age was the acquisition of treasure — whether it be by pillage or exchange of gifts.

As for the inconvenience of the British Museum, it does not charge admission. Greek sites (which do) are often, in my experience, closed with little notice. The very survival of the Elgin Marbles is due to their storage here, as can be seen by comparison with the caryatids left on the Acropolis.

University College, Oxford

June 16, 2005

Kouros stolen in WWII is returned to Samos

Posted at 8:46 pm in Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

A couple of weeks ago, an art dealer discovered that a kouros that he had purchased had been taken illegally from Greece during the war. He decided to return it, & earlier today the statue was welcomed back by the island’s museum.
The art dealer, James Ede is president of the chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art

The Guardian

Greek Statue Stolen During WWII Returned
Thursday June 16, 2005 5:01 PM
AP Photo ATH101
Associated Press Writer

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Authorities cheered the return Thursday of a tiny, 2,600-year-old statue stolen during World War II, and said the news should offer hope to antiquity officials in Iraq as well.

They also said the statue’s return should send a message to the British Museum, which currently has the Parthenon Marbles – a collection of Greek sculptures taken from the Parthenon in 1811.
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June 15, 2005

China continues campaign to buy back looted artefacts

Posted at 10:21 pm in Similar cases

Zhang Yongnian continues his project to buy many of the artefacts looted from China between 1840 & 1949. As I have previously indicated, this method of retrieving the artefacts is one that few western museums would consider ethically acceptable even if they did have the money available to carry out such a plan.

China Daily

Reclaiming cultural relics from overseas
China Daily Updated: 2005-06-14 06:02

Cultural relic experts and NGOs have set the wheels in motion to begin reclaiming China’s national treasures from abroad, said an article in Beijing Review. The following are excerpts from the article:

On April 11, the China Cultural Relics Recovery Programme, funded by the China Foundation for the Development of Folklore Culture announced a large-scale programme to reclaim Chinese cultural relics scattered around the world.
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Pressure to allow deaccessioning grows

Posted at 10:14 pm in British Museum

Following the Feldmann case that highlights the poorly thought out nature of the anti-deaccessioning clauses in the British Museum Act, a report by the Museums Association highlights the same issue, but for entirely different reasons.
Museums collections are getting larger & larger with every new acquisition that they make & the amount of the collection that is never seen by the public also grows.
With museums that are funded by public money, is it acceptable for so much of their collections to be inaccessible the people who are paying for it? Should people be questioning the money spent on new acquisitions, while they only have the space to display a small percentage of what they already own?

The Times

June 14, 2005
Let your treasures see the light of day, museums told
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

TOO many museum collections are stashed away in storerooms, according to a damning report published yesterday.

Museums are failing to realise the full potential of their collections and must ensure that they really are for everyone, a study by the Museums Association concluded. Jane Glaister, chair of the report’s steering committee, said: “If an object sits in a store for ten years, without anyone looking at it, and if it is not published or made available on the internet, can that museum be realising its responsibilities towards the object and towards the public?”
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June 11, 2005

Ethiopia, repatriation & cultural memory

Posted at 2:43 pm in Similar cases

Following the request by Ethiopia for the return of many of their cultural treasures, now held in European museums and Institutions, Richard Pankhurst has written an article refuting some of the anti-restitution arguments put forward by the west.
Whils I have always argued that every restitution case is different, many of the concepts he describes are universal & apply just as much to the Elgin Marbles as they do to Ethiopian Manuscripts.

Addis Tribune (Addis Ababa, Ethipoia)

Some Thoughts on Repatriation and Cultural Memory
By Richard Pankhurst

People who live differently, as we know, think differently.

Thieves and robbers think differently from the people from whom they have stolen and robbed.

And more relevant to today’s Reflections:

Those whose countries have inherited loot from other countries tend to be complacent, and to think differently from those whose ancestors were plundered.
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Vijay Mallya & the re-acquisition of Indian artefacts

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

The Times of India has been following the actions of the wealthy Vijay Mallya as he tries to acquire treasures that once belonged to Tipu Sultan, but were taken from India by the British.
The articles are interesting, not just in the parallels that they draw to Elgin Marbles, but also in the almost identical arguments used against the return of artefacts to India.
The three articles fit into the categories of Θέση, Αντίθεση, Σύνθεση (the argument, the counter argument & the sum of the arguments – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – a phrase used by Nikos Kazantzakis in the book Αγγλία where he describes his visit to the British Museum)
In many ways though the cases are completely different; Vijay Mallya is an individual repurchasing items that left the country but have been made available at auction. There is dispute over the legality of how the articles left India originally & who they should belong to (as described in the first article). However, there was an opportunity for the artefacts to be re-acquired by India when they were auctioned on the open market – something that has never been a possibility with the Elgin Marbles.

Times of India

Tipu is the Sultan of Sotheby’s
IANS[ THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2005 08:10:49 PM ]
LONDON: Sixty-four artefacts belonging Tipu Sultan fetched ₤ 1.23 million after some hectic bidding at a controversial Sotheby’s auction.

The chief attraction, a gold-inlaid sporting gun belonging to 18th century Indian ruler and decorated with his signature, the roaring tiger, was sold for ₤ 100,000 to an anonymous telephone bidder.
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The Elgin Marbles & the 2012 Olympic bid

Posted at 11:16 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

There was an interesting letter in The Times yesterday about the return of the Elgin Marbles. The writer is suggesting that Britain’s bid for the 2012 Olympics would be the ideal time for Britain to return one part of Greek culture at the same time as they are hoping to represent another part of Greek culture.

The Times (London)

June 10, 2005
Olympian ideal
From the Reverend Dr Nicholas W. S. Cranfield

Sir, If London is determined to stage the Olympic Games in 2012, it might now behove Her Majesty’s Government to make a suitable propitiatory sacrifice to the gods.

To return the Elgin Marbles at this juncture would be a gesture of generosity consonant with the ancient Greek understanding of hospitality.
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June 10, 2005

Acropolis restoration needs another €70M

Posted at 1:07 pm in Acropolis

The current restoration of the Acropolis has now been underway for 30 years, but there is still a huge amount left to complete. The fact remains though, that although €70M is a large amount, it is no more than is spent on the construction of many luxury hotels nowadays for instance, yet the Hellenic government is very reluctant to give the project the funding that it requires. Yet the importance of the project can not be under estimated; not only is it one of the largest scale, most technically complex & most technologically advanced restoration projects anywhere in the world, but the Acropolis itself is the symbol that everyone identifies with Greece.
Tourists complain about the scaffolding, but it is far less obtrusive than the scaffolding in the interior of Aya Sofia for instance. Perhaps in their photos, the building will not look as pristine as they wanted to imagine it, but without the restoration it would not be there at all.

The Guardian

Repair of Acropolis started in 1975 – now it needs 20 more years and £47m
Helena Smith in Athens
Friday June 10, 2005
The Guardian

It is meant to be the highlight of any trip to Greece: climbing the “holy rock” in Athens to see the marvels of the ancient Acropolis. But visiting the place that Le Corbusier, the pioneer of architectural modernism, called the most “ruthlessly flawless” monument in the world is not what it used to be.

Parts of the Acropolis have been dismantled. Other areas are shrouded in scaffolding and overshadowed by a crane.
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June 9, 2005

New laws needed to deal with looted art

Posted at 1:04 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

An analysis of the Feldmann case in Forward looks not only at the case involving the British Museum Act, but also at the wider context of looted art from that period, how different countries laws deal with the problem & highlights again the inaction of the British Government since acknowledging that the law needed revising in 2000.
Interestingly at the end, the British Museum denies that the Feldmann case could have any connection to that of the Elgin Marbles, but for a completely different reason to those that I outlined here.


British Museum in Moral Quandary Over Stolen Art
June 10, 2005

The British Museum wants to return a set of drawings stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis — but in this case, doing the “moral” thing is against the law.

At stake are four old master drawings that were taken in 1939 from the Feldmanns, a Czech family, and sold to the British Museum after the war for nine guineas. The museum has stated its “moral obligation” to return the drawings, but last week a judge in London ruled that the British Museum Act of 1963 does not permit the museum to part with most objects in its collections, including the Feldmann drawings.
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June 4, 2005

Peter Hitchens supports the return of the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 11:47 am in Elgin Marbles

In 1997, Christopher Hitchens wrote “The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece? “, a very well reasoned & persuasive account of why he felt that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned.
Christopher Hitchens has a less internationally known brother Peter Hitchens who agrees on very little with his brother. Reading their articles, it has always appeared that there is little common ground between the two of them.
At the Hay on Wye Literary festival last week though, during a joint interview session it transpired that one of the few subjects on which they do both agree is that the British have little right to keep the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

The Guardian

Ian Katz (Guardian features editor): I want to ask you about a quote that has cropped up in the pages of various magazines in the conversations that you two have had around the world. [To Peter] you said to the Guardian, ‘being Peter Hitchens is about not being Christopher Hitchens, which is true to some extent, as Canada is about not being the United States. But it doesn’t mean I spend my whole time thinking: Christopher thinks this, how can I differentiate myself from him?’ Does that mean you spend some of your time thinking about it?
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June 3, 2005

What does the Feldmann case verdict mean for the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 8:15 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A lot of the articles appearing in the press in the last week about the Feldmann case & the subsequent verdict have made a connection between this case & that of the Elgin Marbles. Both cases after all involve artefacts in the British Museum that people are campaigning to be returned. In reality though, how relevant is the Feldmann case & the subsequent verdict?

Points arising from the Feldmann case

On Saturday, the story was in the following papers:
Guardian, BBC News, The Scotsman, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times
Syndicated versions of the article from Bloomberg, AFP, AP & Reuters appeared in many US, Canadian & Australian Papers.
Copies of all these versions appear in the previous posts about the case during the last 2 weeks.

In total the story has been on over 25 different news sources in one form or another.

From reading through the articles there are a number of relevant points that I have noticed & summarised below. Some of the background details come from earlier articles from 2002 onwards. Anyway, there are some quite interesting points that we can get from this case & the media’s reaction to it.

Details of the case:
The case is HC04CO3885 : Her Majesty’s Attorney General v The Trustees of the British Museum.

The case was the first claim against a British collection demanding the return of artworks looted by the Nazis (there was a previous case against the Tate, but the owner’s descendents were seeking financial compensation rather than restitution.)
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Artefacts from German Museums now in Russia

Posted at 8:11 am in Similar cases

After the Second World War Russia had accumulated a lot of artefacts that were previously in German Museums. Germany has requested them back for a long time, now Russia is further antagonising Germany by putting many of these items together in an exhibition. One does wonder though how legitimate all the original acquisitions of “valuable pieces of Greek, Italian, Cypriot and Etruscan art” by German Museums were.

The Moscow Times

Spoils of War
An exhibition of ancient artworks – once kept in Berlin museums, then seized by Soviet forces in 1945 – has revived an old dispute between Russia and Germany.
By Anna Malpas
Published: May 27, 2005

The statues and frescoes survived thousands of years, only to be smashed and burned in the aftermath of World War II. Now a collection of antiquities taken from Berlin by Red Army troops in 1945 has been restored and put on display in Moscow, opening up old wounds on both sides.
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