Quote of the Day

I understand what museums fear. They think everything will have to go back if the marbles do. But the Acropolis is special.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

April 9, 2015

Neil MacGregor to stand down as Director of British Museum

Posted at 10:41 pm in British Museum

Neil MacGregor has announced that he is going to stand down as the Director of the British Museum at the end of 2015. During his tenure at the museum, he has definitely raised the profile of the institution, along with his own public standing. He has done a lot of good in broadening the reach of the British Museum, through such things as the History of the World in 100 objects radio series and book.

During his time there, there have been many epic exhibitions, such as the Terracotta Army, although I am sure that while he played a key part, he was far from the only one involved in getting such endeavours off the ground.

However, whatever praise MacGregor might receive should be accompanied by some major caveats.

He is lauded as presiding over a period in which the Museum has risen in popularity, and whilst this is true, it is partly a result of things outside of his control. The Great Court at the Museum is now the iconic space that people remember the building for, but work on it was started well before his arrival and it finally opened a year before he took on the role of director. The previous director presided over a museum that was a building site, with awkward circulation though side corridors, yet the bright spacious museum of the new millennium was not MacGregor’s doing.

In some newspapers, it appears that MacGregor can do no wrong. Even former critics now unquestioningly praise his every move as the work of a genius. I have no idea of the actual arrangements that have been made, but to an outsider it has certain parallels to the embedded reporters accompanying military divisions – you can get the inside stories before anyone else, but only as long as you don’t publish anything negative.

While MacGregor has presented a far more educated approach to the running of the museum than many of his predecessors, with a more rounded global outreach programme, under his control, the museum has always been quick to apply spin to its own actions. Shortly after he took charge of the institution, a highly publicised document appeared – the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum. Many major institutions were present on this list, although the British Museum was notable by is absence. It was clear to many that they were involved in this document, and as it turned out, the declaration fell flat & disappeared from public discourse fairly rapidly.

While the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum might have faded from memory, its legacy is still very much with us. James Cuno continually tries to revive the discredited Universal Museum concept under the alias of the Encyclopaedic Museum. Yet, the whole idea of the Universality of institutions such ass the British Museum is something of a fiction concocted by MacGregor. Prior to MacGregor taking up a post at the British Museum, there are no news stories that mentioned the term Universal Museum, yet it is pushed on us as though it is something that has always existed. It may or may not be a coincidence that its inception followed soon after construction work on the New Acropolis Museum started, removing one of the British Museums previous arguments for retention of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Neil MacGregor receives praise for loaning the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, yet people are quick to forget that for years leading up to this, it was a source of immense tension. The British Museum had earlier made an agreement to loan the artefact, in reciprocation for earlier loans made by Iran, yet when the time came, they did everything in their power to delay this process and avoid following through with the agreement.

While MacGregor talks a lot about cultural diplomacy and working with other institutions, during his 13 years at the museum, he has not moved even a millimetre closer to resolving the long standing dispute over the Parthenon Marbles. Despite Greece building a state of the Art new museum to house them, MacGregor and his representatives try to claim that such endeavours merely strengthen the case for keeping half of the surviving Marbles in Britain. While other museums (particularly in the USA) have gradually seen that old disputes need to be resolved, the British Museum has continued to respond by burying its head in the sand and pretending that the issue will go away.

The Museums recent actions, of lending one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg received much acclaim in the press, but in reality won little support from others in the museum world. Having previously denied denying a loan of the sculptures to Greece, a loan was made in secret to Russia. Once the loan as publicly announced with a multi-page feature in a national newspaper, the British Museum had the audacity to suggest that Greek complaints were ungracious. While once the British Museum claimed that the sculptures were too fragile to move, they are now talking about lending them to institutions around the world – pimping them to everyone except for their rightful owners. Finally, it became clear to many that the museum did not understand the sculptures as a part of a greater whole, something that was designed to be seen together.

Most recently, the British Museum has turned down a request made by Greece for mediation through UNESCO to resolve the Parthenon Marbles dispute. Surely if they were serious about trying to resolve disputes and their position was as strong as they claim it is, they would jumped at the chance to move things forward?

For many who campaign for the return of disputed artefacts, MacGregor’s tenure at the British Museum will be remembered as one of missed opportunities. Of being too blinkered to see the potential advantages of reunifying items with their rightful owners. A rejection of the potential win-win scenario of reciprocal loans of new and unseen works. Of missing out on an increased standing of the institution internationally as old differences were resolved. A failure in cultural decolonisation.

There was (and still is) the potential to reinvent the British Museum as an institution that can provide a moral lead, a new style of museum for the 21st Century, one that can revisit its past in order to create a new, better future. The opportunity has always been there, but MacGregor has never been willing to take it, instead leaving US institutions to take some of the first tentative steps along this path, creating places that exemplify contemporary values rather than the dodgy dealing of times past.

One hopes that perhaps MacGregor’s successor will be able to think different.

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor


Neil MacGregor announces departure from British Museum
Nick Clark
Wednesday 08 April 2015

Neil MacGregor, who has transformed the fortunes of the British Museum during his 13 year reign, is to leave the UK’s most popular visitor attraction at the end of the year.

The 69-year-old Scot told his colleagues of his decision to step down in December at a meeting. The director received prolonged applause from the staff, according to one onlooker, who said the announcement was “emotional for everybody”.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 7, 2015

Greece responds to UNESCO marbles mediation rejection

Posted at 10:27 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis has responded to the news that his country’s request for mediation over the Parthenon Marbles issue has been rejected by both the British Government and the British Museum.

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

ABC News (Australia)

Greece condemns British Museum’s refusal to allow mediation over ancient Parthenon sculptures
Posted 28 Mar 2015, 10:02pm

Greece has condemned the British Museum’s decision to reject a UNESCO offer to help resolve a decades-old dispute over returning ancient Parthenon sculptures to Athens.

The sculptures are part of the collection popularly known as the Elgin Marbles which were acquired by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s when he was ambassador to the Ottoman court.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 1, 2015

Leaked Tory manifesto hints at Parthenon Marbles return

Posted at 12:01 am in Elgin Marbles

The British Conservative Party under the leadership of David Cameron have over the last five years been consistent in their trenchant opposition to what they describe as “returnism“.

With the run up to the May general election however, things seem to have taken on a different approach. In leaked draft of the Tory manifesto being circulated on various websites, there is a section entitled repatriation of individuals and items highlights a number of new policies.

It starts making a clear grab for UKIP voters, stating that under a Conservative government, any EU migrants in the country who had claimed unemployment benefit for more than two months would be requested to leave the country. It also outlined other incentives to encourage foreign nationals to leave the country, including lump sum cash payments that can be taken only on the condition that they do not return to the UK for ten years.

The second part of this section however is more intriguing, not least as it completely contradicts many of the actions of the government during the previous five years. Under the subtitle A better reputation abroad for a better Britain at home, the document outlines how in the next term, the government hopes to sell off various state run museums to private operators, making them more efficient financially while at the same time freeing up money for other uses as part of their long term economic plan. It then goes on to explain how this process is currently complicated by the fact that private operators would be wary of purchasing any assets which contained items around which there are ownership disputes, such as the Parthenon Marbles and the Rosetta Stone. It states that a new entity called the British Institutions Non Governmental Organisation (BINGO) would assess the risk level of each item, and then work out a fair market value at which the item could be re-purchased by the nations that originally owned them.

Clearly anticipating the limited financial means of some of the countries from which the artefacts originate, the manifesto goes on to say that the re-purchase of any items of cultural property could be funded by loan agreements organised by the same companies taking over the management of the museums.

Now, while I have many reservations about the whole process and strong doubts about the likelihood of the government managing to implement these proposals fully, it does seem to indicate a clear shift in approach – that despite the recent rejection of UNESCO mediation, they are tacitly admitting that there is a problem which needs to be resolved.

I am strongly against the idea of selling artefacts back to their original owners, but there may always be scope for negotiation of the exact terms once more details of the proposal became available.

Various websites also have quotes from a number of official, responding to the news about these new proposals.

Pillory Sour from the Department of Culture Media and Sport has stated:

Despite my best efforts to convince the government that relinquishing any disputed artefacts from UK collections was a terrible idea, it appears that the one party we thought we could completely trust has decided to put profit ahead of prudence in their approach to the issue).

In a more carefully worded statement, Henna Biltong from the British Museum noted that:

While the British Museum has for many years aimed for a policy of zero leeway to returning artefacts, wee realise that a new look, more efficient institution could deliver profits for shareholders, while at the same time collecting interest from the purchase loans if many of these artefacts were returned. As such, we see it as a win-win scenario for the museum.

The Greek Government has yet to comment on this story.

As some have already spotted, today is of course April 1st. The Conservative Manifesto has yet to be published, but I doubt it has anything in it about returning cultural property, and hope that it will contain no extreme anti-immigration measures. Neither Pillory Sour or Henna Biltong exist, and any resemblance to real individuals with similar names is entirely coincidental. I am very much hoping that they have no plans to sell off Britain’s national museums to private operators, although nothing would surprise me.

March 31, 2015

Bishop calls on Church of England to support return of Marbles

Posted at 1:08 pm in Elgin Marbles

Prompted by Andrew George MP’s EDM, in a letter to the Church Times, The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes calls for the Church of England to give their support to the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. Dr Innes is the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, a diocese that although nominally based in the British territory of Gibraltar, oversees a (geographically) vast diocese, that covers all of Mainland Europe, plus Morocco, Turkey and the former USSR member states.

It is great so see such publicly expressed support for the restitution of the sculptures and it is hoped that the Church of England as a whole might follow this lead in due course.

The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes - Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes – Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

Church Times

It’s time to return the Elgin Marbles

From the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe


Last week, Andrew George led a cross-party group of MPs in support of an Early Day parliamentary motion calling upon the Govern­ment to engage in the “gracious act” of returning the Parthenon sculptures removed from Athens 210 year ago by Lord Elgin.

I believe that members of the Church of England should take a national lead in showing their support for this motion.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 27, 2015

UK government rejects Parthenon Marbles UNESCO mediation

Posted at 10:56 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

In September 2013, after long deliberation, the Greek Government made the decision to invite the Britain (via UNESCO) into mediation to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures issue.

Since then, the issue of the Parthenon Marbles has risen far higher up the agenda, publicised first by George Clooney, and then the presence of his wife Amal, as a member of a team of lawyers invited to Athens to advise on potential legal action.

Most recently, the British Museum themselves pushed the case of the Marbles back into the limelight with an (arguably) ill received decision to secretly loan one of the sculptures to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg.

All this time, despite the issue of the Parthenon Marbles making international news headlines on numerous occasions, no response to the request was forthcoming from the British Government or the British Museum, other than the fact that they were considering it and would respond in due course.

During this period, ICOMOS passed a resolution in support of the mediation request, letters were written to the Prime Minister and questions were asked in Parliament. Earlier this month, Andrew George MP tabled an Early Day motion intended to draw attention to this inaction.

Suddenly today, the British Museum published responses on their website from themselves and the British Government, that were sent to UNESCO to be forwarded on to the Greek Government.

As one might have predicted, the response was negative.

Now, maybe it just took seventeen months of careful thinking to arrive at the decision that they did not want to enter into mediation, but alarm bells are ringing regarding the timing of this. Following the 2010 General Election in the UK, the decision was made that from then on, Parliament would operate on five year fixed terms – so for the first time ever, the date of the next election was known well in advance.

Although Parliament is to be dissolved on 30th March 2015 prior to the election, it was prorogued on 26th March. What this means is that at prorogation, all parliamentary business ends, although that Parliament would still exist until dissolution.

It seems an unlikely coincidence that the date of 26th March is exactly the same one given on the top of the two letters of response to the mediation request. To me, this looks like the person who fires of an email that they know will be contentious, just before leaving the office for a two week holiday. They leave it until he last minute, hoping that someone else will deal with the fallout, or that it will be forgotten by their return.

In my day job as an architect, I have on occasion come across similar behaviour, in the context of planning application rejections. The objections were filed at the latest possible point in the process, where the other party had no time to respond, meaning that the whole process would be for an entire month until the next committee meeting. The end result of this process though, was that it was discovered that the objecting party was not being entirely honest – their awkwardly obstructive tactics merely drew attention to this fact, and in the end, it transpired that the validity of their objections was entirely cast into doubt by far greater transgressions on their own part.

I can not help noting a parallel between these two situations. If the British Government / British Museum felt that they were sitting entirely comfortable and had a strong case, why would they not respond on a timescale where the other party could reply at leisure if they so desired within the current session of Parliament? There has been more than enough time in which to do so, and the timing of this announcement merely highlights the level of awkward obstructiveness that is faced when anyone tried to actually engage the British Government or the British Museum in discussions on the issue.

I have previously highlighted the carrot and stick approach to cultural property negotiations. Like many, I was never convinced UNESCO mediation would work, as there was nothing to compel the British Museum to enter into the process. They feel that they are sitting comfortably, so why should they voluntarily enter into a procedure, the outcome of which might be that they end up significantly less comfortable? If a potential threat of legal action was also on the horizon though, then the mediation might have been perceived very differently. Suddenly, mediation would become a distinctly palatable alternative to a costly and high profile lawsuit, which could sully the name of the institution and drag on for years.

As yet, no official proposals have been made for litigation, although we know that it has been considered. Who knows whether if and when it does take place, mediation will still be available as an option. If the mediation offer is withdrawn, the British Museum / British Government might well regret not taking the offer when it was available.

All this highlights that importance of the Greek Government keeping up the pressure on Britain. The first serious attempt at negotiation may not have worked, but it should be followed up with alternative options, making sure that the UK realises that attempting to ignore the situation will not make it go away. The issue of the Marbles is one that needs to be resolved, and mealy mouthed talk of Universal Museums and denial of the existence of past loan requests is not the way to achieve this.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

British Museum

Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15

26 March 2015

The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum: UNESCO mediation proposal

I write on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum, who at their meeting of 19th March 2015 considered the request put forward by the Greek Government that they should enter into a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, on the subject of the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request. We believe that the more constructive way forward, on which we have already embarked, is to collaborate directly with other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world.

The British Museum admires and supports the work of UNESCO, fully acknowledging the importance of its unique ability, as an intergovernmental agency, to address the serious issue of the threats to, and the destruction of, cultural heritage around the world. The Museum has a long history of collaboration with UNESCO, notably in Iraq in 2003-5, and is currently engaged with UNESCO in formulating responses to the crisis in Syria, including the illicit trafficking of antiquities. The Museum would wish always to align itself with UNESCO’s purposes in the preservation and safeguarding of the world’s endangered cultural heritage. However, the surviving Parthenon Sculptures, carefully preserved in a number of European museums, clearly do not fall into this category.

The British Museum, as you know, is not a government body, and the collections do not belong to the British Government. The Trustees of the British Museum hold them not only for the British people, but for the benefit of the world public, present and future. The Trustees have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve and maintain all the collections in their care, to treat them as inalienable and to make them accessible to world audiences.

In pursuit of this aim, the Trustees would want to develop existing good relations with colleagues and institutions in Greece, and to explore collaborative ventures, not on a government-to-government basis but directly between institutions. This is why we believe that UNESCO involvement is not the best way forward. Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity.

The potential of this approach can be seen in the British Museum’s current special exhibition Defining Beauty, the Body in Ancient Greek Art, which opened to the public today. Here some of the Parthenon Sculptures are displayed with other works that similarly show the intense humanism of ancient Greek civilisation, including masterpieces generously lent by museums around the world. Nowhere else in the world is it now, or has it ever been, possible to see these objects together. The aesthetic impact is considerable, and the intellectual content compelling. This seems to us to point the way forward, as an example of the great public benefit that arises from museums internationally using and sharing their collections in this way.

In this same spirit, the Trustees recently lent one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and were pleased to learn that in only six weeks some 140,000 Russian visitors had the chance to see it there. This was a new audience for this extraordinary work of ancient Greek art, most of whom could not have visited either Athens or London. Visitor surveys revealed that the display of the sculpture was received with great interest and warm enthusiasm. After two and a half thousand years, this was Russia’s first glimpse of the splendours of fifth-century Athens that have played such a central part in shaping Russian consciousness and culture.

Such initiatives, arranged directly between the participating institutions, seem to the Trustees a natural way of building from the fact that the surviving Parthenon Sculptures are shared among a number of European collections. This means that the sculptures can already be seen in a different historical context in each museum, and the Trustees believe this to be to the great benefit of world audiences. The sculptures in London are already seen by more than six million visitors each year, free of charge.

Views on the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures naturally differ, though there is unanimous recognition that the original totality of the sculptural decoration cannot now be reassembled as so much has been lost, and that the surviving sculptures can never again take their place on the building. The scholars of the British Museum and of other institutions that hold Parthenon Sculptures enjoy excellent collaborative relationships with Greek museums and universities, in Athens and elsewhere. These have included collaboration on research projects, publications and exhibitions. The British Museum has routinely lent to Greece, and indeed British Museum objects are currently on loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. This demonstrates the warm relationships of mutual trust and respect that have been built up between scholars in Athens and London. The Acropolis Museum and the British Museum are both centres for Parthenon studies, and curators and colleagues from each institution have together discussed their common efforts to seek new audiences and to find new ways of interpretation.

As Trustees we attach great importance to these joint ventures, and believe that both the study of the Parthenon Sculptures and their display to the widest possible audiences illuminates not only the Classical Greek achievement but also its impact on the world. In conclusion, therefore, we would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon.

We are sending this letter both in English and in Greek, and are copying it to the Ministers for Culture and Europe, who are replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter of 9 August 2013.

Sir Richard Lambert
Chairman of the British Museum Board of Trustees

British Government

26 March 2015
Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
Dear Mr
Pérez de Armiñán,


We are writing in response to the letter of 9 August 2013 from your predecessor, Francesco Bandarin, to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities, the Foreign Secretary and the Director of the British Museum.

We would first like to express how much we value the role that UNESCO plays in helping to safeguard cultural heritage and in providing a forum for the resolution of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). The issue of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum has been the subject of much discussion over the years both within the Committee and elsewhere, and while the UK is not formally a member of the Committee, officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum have regularly attended and sought to assist the Committee in its work.

Mr Bandarin asked us to consider a request put forward by the Greek Government to agree to a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, with a view to transferring the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum to Greece. At the Nineteenth Session of the ICPRCP in October 2014, the UK acknowledged that UNESCO stands ready to facilitate mediation discussions and the ICPRCP adopted a recommendation that invites the parties to consider making use of the mediation process as proposed by Greece.

While we remain keen to cooperate with UNESCO in its work, the fact remains that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the laws pertaining at the time and the Trustees of the British Museum have had clear legal title to the sculptures since 1816. Neither the British Government nor the British Museum are aware of any new arguments to the contrary since 1985, when a formal Greek request for the return of the sculptures was turned down by the British Government. We have seen nothing to suggest that Greece’s purpose in seeking mediation on this issue is anything other than to achieve the permanent transfer of the Parthenon sculptures now in the British Museum to Greece and on terms that would deny the British Museum’s right of ownership, either in law or as a practical reality. Given our equally clear position, this leads us to conclude that mediation would not carry this debate substantially forward.

In addition to the matter of clear legal title, a further relevant factor is that the Trustees of the British Museum are prevented by law from de-accessioning objects in the Museum’s collections unless they are duplicates or unfit for retention. Successive governments have indicated their support for this important legal principle, which is in common with the legal obligations of all the UK’s major public museums and protects the integrity of the British Museum’s collections.

We acknowledge that the Greek Government has aspirations relating to the transfer of the sculptures to Greece and all of us who have had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis Museum greatly admire it. The Acropolis Museum has allowed a greater proportion of the rich collection of sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens to be exhibited than ever before, and has provided a fitting home for many of the Parthenon sculptures that have been removed from the temple in recent years.

Given the global nature of the collection held by the British Museum, the many millions of visitors who visit each year have the opportunity to understand the significance of the Parthenon sculptures in the context of world history and they can do so free of charge. While we understand the strength of contrary opinion, we think that this is something of incalculable international benefit.

In that spirit, the British Museum has a long history of friendly collaboration with colleagues in the Greek Archaeological Service and has contributed to discussions around the restoration of the Acropolis monuments. It has also worked on a project to scan elements of the surviving Parthenon sculptures in both Athens and London. The UK Government is keen that the process of mutual, bilateral cooperation that exists between the UK and Greece on cultural matters should continue to develop.

Setting aside the differences relating to the Parthenon sculptures, we believe that there is scope for further co-operation and collaboratio n between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in the years ahead, and we hope that this path can be pursued.

We are copying this letter to Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, who is replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter.

Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy

Minister for Europe

Early day motion 852 UNESCO mediation and the Marbles

Posted at 9:38 pm in Elgin Marbles

As mentioned in an Earlier post, Andrew George MP has tabled an Early Day motion regarding the continued prevarication by Britain over UNESCO mediation over the Parthenon Marbles.

While not in any way an instrument of enforcement, Early Day Motions can be a handy way of identifying other like minded supporters of an issue within Parliament, as well as a reminder to others that the issue is still very much something that people feel strongly about.

Andrew George MP, Chair of the Marbles Reunited campaign

Andrew George MP, Chair of the Marbles Reunited campaign

UK Parliament

Early day motion 852
Mediation with UNESCO for the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures

Session: 2014-15
Date tabled: 09.03.2015
Primary sponsor: George, Andrew
Sanders, Adrian
Lefroy, Jeremy
Corbyn, Jeremy
Williams, Hywel
Glindon, Mary

That this House is aware that half of the Parthenon sculptures, controversially removed from Athens by Lord Elgin 210 years ago using a flimsy legal justification during the Ottoman occupation of Greece, remain on display in the British Museum; notes that, when presented with the facts, the British public favours the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens; further notes an opinion poll conducted by YouGov in October 2014 which shows only 23 per cent of the British public think they should stay in Britain; is further aware that the British Museum has abandoned most of its conventional arguments and now advances the novel concept of a universal museum; regrets the Government’s apparent decision to reject the offer from UNESCO to mediate with the Greek government; and calls on the Government to reverse this decision and to demonstrate that Britain is prepared to express its standing in the world by engaging in a gracious act to reunite these British-held Parthenon sculptures with those now displayed in the purpose-built Acropolis Museum in the shadow of the monument to which they belong, the Parthenon in Athens.

The following MPs have signed this motion so far:

  1. Abbott, Diane
  2. Campbell, Ronnie
  3. Clark, Katy
  4. Corbyn, Jeremy
  5. Flynn, Paul
  6. Galloway, George
  7. George, Andrew
  8. Glindon, Mary
  9. Godsiff, Roger
  10. Hancock, Mike
  11. Hopkins, Kelvin
  12. Leech, John
  13. Lefroy, Jeremy
  14. McDonnell, John
  15. Meale, Alan
  16. Sanders, Adrian
  17. Sharma, Virendra
  18. Ward, David
  19. Williams, Hywel
  20. Williams, Mark

March 23, 2015

The man who returned the Bird of Prophecy to Nigeria

Posted at 1:58 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Mark Walker inherited a bronze sculpture from Nigeria that had been taken from the country by his Grandfather during the Benin Punitive Expedition.

After coming into possession of one of the Benin Bronzes, he had to think what to do with it next. He thought ahead to what would happen to them when he died. His children did not want them, and he did not want them to be sold at auction. Instead, he got in touch with the Richard Lander Society, who facilitated the return for the sculptures to the descendants of the rulers of Benin.

It seems that in more and more stories, while individuals feel a need to do the right thing, by righting historic wrongs, museums and other institutions seem far less compelled to do so. This is despite the fact that as places of education, one would expect that they would be the ones to be taking a moral lead in such situations rather than dragging their heels.

Eight hundred items from the Benin Punitive Expedition are still held in the British Museum in London. Other institutions around the world house many more. In all cases, Nigeria also claims rightful ownership.

The "Bird of Prophecy" returned to Benin City by Mark Walker

The “Bird of Prophecy” returned to Benin City by Mark Walker

BBC News

26 February 2015 Last updated at 00:09
The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art
By Ellen Otzen BBC World Service

At the end of the 19th Century British troops looted thousands of works of art from the Benin Empire – in modern-day Nigeria – and brought them home. One soldier’s grandson inherited two bronzes but recently returned them to their original home.

“It’s an image that’s deeply ingrained in my memory. The dead body seemed unreal. It’s not a picture you can easily forget,” says Mark Walker.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 22, 2015

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015 – Former Australian PM & Marbalista

Posted at 11:21 pm in Elgin Marbles

Former Australian Malcolm Fraser died on Friday morning aged 84. He was vociferously outspoken about his support for the return of the Parthenon Marbles for many years. Despite being political adversaries, he shared his support for the reunification of the Marbles with Gough Whitlam – another former Australian PM who died in October of last year.

You can read more about Malcolm Frasers support for philhellenism here and here.

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015, Former Australian Prime Minister

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015, Former Australian Prime Minister

Neos Kosmos

Malcolm Fraser remembered
20 Mar 2015
Sotiris Hatzimanolis

Hundreds have come forward to honour former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who died on Friday morning at the age of 84 years.

Malcolm Fraser served as prime minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983, leading the Liberals, and was among other things, a great humanist and philhellene.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 15, 2015

Geneva Summer Schools – International Cultural Heritage Law

Posted at 9:33 pm in Events, Similar cases

The Université de Genève is organising a summer school on International Cultural Heritage Law, from June 22nd – July 3rd.

Check the Geneva Summer Schools website for full details of the course programme.

Geneva Summer Schools

International Cultural Heritage Law

June 22 – July 3, 2015


The summer school aims to develop the students’ awareness and general understanding of the main substantive themes of international cultural heritage law, namely:

  • the trade in cultural objects;
  • the restitution of stolen or looted artworks;
  • the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict;
  • the protection of the built heritage from natural and human-induced disasters;
  • the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage and of the diversity of cultural expressions;
  • the relationship between cultural heritage law and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO);
  • the settlement of cultural heritage disputes.

Read the rest of this entry »

James Cuno, ISIS and cultural heritage preservation

Posted at 9:11 pm in Similar cases

James Cuno has in the past regularly staked his claim as one of the most hardline retentionists in the US museums world.

In his latest missive to the New York Times letters page, he tries to argue that many of the current problems with looting are actually the fault of UNESCO conventions on cultural property. His line of reasoning is that cultural property laws keep the artefacts in their country of origin – thereby making it easier for other factions within the country to seize / destroy them. There are too many flaws to this argument for me to list. Fortunately Kwame Opoku has taken the time to write a far more comprehensive dis-assembly of Cuno’s arguments than I would have managed.

Isis militants attack ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

Isis militants attack ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

Kwame Opoku (by email)

Does Dr Cuno really believe what he writes?

After my last article, I swore not to comment anymore on Dr.Cuno’s statements in order to avoid any impression that I was unduly concentrating on the opinions of one scholar. (1) However, it seems the U.S. American scholar is never tired of presenting views that most critics would consider patently wrong. Could we just keep quiet when a most influential scholar expresses an opinion that is obviously wrong? In his latest letter to the editor of the New York Times, 11 March,2015,James Cuno, President and Chief Executive of the J. Paul Getty trust, Los Angeles declares

”The recent attacks on the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq underscore a tragic reality. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization encourages — and provides an institutional instrument for — the retention of antiquities within the borders of the modern state that claims them. That state, very sadly, also has the authority to sell them on the illegal market, damage them or destroy them.
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March 13, 2015

Culture & Crisis one day conference at V&A

Posted at 2:06 pm in Events, Similar cases

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is organising a one day conference on the effects of the recent destruction and loss of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq.

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict


Culture in Crisis

What: Conferences & Symposia
When: Tue 14 April 2015 10:00 – 17:30
Where: The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre

CONFERENCE: The recent destruction and loss of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq is a cause for world-wide concern and condemnation. But what is the role of museums? Can we support people from these countries, whilst ensuring our own protection?
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March 12, 2015

Ilissos returns to British Museum, but not to Duveen Gallery

Posted at 9:40 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

The statue of Ilissos was sent to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg last December, heralded with much fanfare from the British Museum and some news sources.

It has now returned to the British Museum, but will not be occupying its usual position in the Duveen Gallery just yet.

Instead, it is gong to be appearing in a new exhibition – Defining Beauty: The Body In Ancient Greek Art which starts on 26th March. Curator Ian Jenkins says that visitors will get “a different story” by seeing one sculpture away from the rest of them. This seems to be once again missing the point that the sculptures are part of a greater whole. Then again, the British Museum would want to see things in this way, as their intention is to erode the argument that they are part of a set as far as possible, in an effort to weaken Greece’s claim.

Stating that separating them tells a different story makes no sense as a justification. The fact that they can tell a different story is definitely the case, but I struggle to see that the different story has any real relevance or could possibly be seen as an improvement. To follow this argument to a ridiculous extreme, one could say that the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas allows them to tell a different story. Would anyone other than the Taliban argue that this “different story” had much merit to it? Probably not.

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

Belfast Telegraph

Marbles back at British Museum
27 February 2015

A section of the Elgin Marbles loaned to Russia last year has returned to the British Museum to take centre stage in a new exhibition.

The sculpture of the river god, Ilissos, will go on show away from the other marbles.
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