Quote of the Day

The building of the new Acropolis Museum finally gives [Greeks] the physical authority to buttress an argument that has too often relied on shrill sentimentalism and unsubtle jingoism.

Peter Aspden, Financial Times newspaper

November 11, 2014

Q&A with David Hill followed Parthenon Marbles film screening

Posted at 1:48 pm in Elgin Marbles, International Association

Following the screening of Promakhos at Australia’s Greek film festival, IARPS chair David Hill gave a question & answer session about the issues surrounding the sculptures. He is of course ideally placed to do this, having recently returned from accompanying the team of lawyers that met with various senior officials in Greece.

Promotional image for the Promakhos movie

Promotional image for the Promakhos movie

From:
Greek Reporter

Parthenon Marbles Film Premiers at Greek Film Festival
by Ioanna Zikakou – Nov 3, 2014

The Delphi Bank 21st Greek Film Festival came to a close on Sunday November 2 with a subject that is close to the heart of every Greek and Philhellene. John and Coerte Voorhees’ Promakhos premiered to two sold-out Sydney audiences at Palace Norton Street Leichhardt, a love story about two Greek Attorneys who sue the British Museum for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

In the frontline for the campaign to return Marbles is archeologist David Hill, Chairman of the Australians for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures and since 2005 the President of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 7, 2014

British Museum boss: Parthenon Marbles acquisition was legal

Posted at 2:47 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

No one expects the British Museum to just suddenly acquiesse on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures. Even by their own standards though, some of what is in the latest interview with their Director, Neil MacGregor, is pushing the bounds of credibility.

Now – to the best of my knowledge, the only firman (or permit) that Elgin ever managed to show to anyone (in Italian translation) stated that he had permission to make measure, sketch & make casts of the sculptures and buildings on the site. It also stated that they could dig up inscribed blocks that might have been preserved in the rubble. Some of the Parthenon Sculptures may fall into this category, but the vast majority were sawn from the building by Elgin. The firman is fairly specific in its wording regarding taking casts, so it seems that it would be an odd omission to describe other things in such detail, but not to mention that he was also allowed to remove large chunks of the ancient monument & saw it apart to remove the sculptures from it. On this basis alone, I think it would be safe to say that the legality of the removal is called into question.

Neil MacGregor however seems to see things a different way – and he believes that most other people do too. He asks himself “Was the acquisition legal?” and then immediately responds “I think everybody would have to agree that it was.” Hearing things such ass this only helps to convince me that a major change of tactics is needed if the sculptures are to return to Greece any time soon. When the institution that holds them is so emphatically certain that they are right, it is hard to start any sort of serious negotiations.

MacGregor falls on a peculiar fallacy, that because it took a long time to remove the sculptures (this is true & well documented), that therefore lots of people must have seen him do it & therefore as he was not stopped, what was doing must have been legal. If a criminal used this as a defence today, we wouldn’t use it as evidence of the legality of their actions though – merely that they were adept at avoiding getting caught.

It is clear from his statements that the British Museum has no fear of the UNESCO mediation request – they believe that UNESCO should deal only with governments, so it does not apply to them. The British Government will of course take the line that it is not the decision for the government can make, and note that the responsibility falls to the Trustees of the British Museum. This is a true assessment of things – but if the government had a will to do something, I’m sure they would not be adverse to leaning on the Trustees & trying to get them to deal with the issue.

MacGregor also highlights another major stumbling block (although I’m sure that he does not see it this way), that Greece must acknowledge that the British Museum is the legal owner of the sculptures, before any negotiations can begin. As a large part of Greece’s claim rests on the fact that the marbles were not legally acquired, then to state that they were before any negotiations would be a disaster. Why would they want to relinquish a big chunk of their arguments before they even start? If the same thing happened in trials over the ownership of Nazi loot, there would be a public outcry.

Throwing one final stone over his parapet, MacGregor shows that the museum is entirely remorseless on the issue (or perhaps entirely misunderstands the issue), stating that even if Elgin was to do the same now, it would still be legal by the standards of the museum. Using as an example (an entirely different situation of) archaeological digs in Sudan, where they have been invited to excavate by the authorities. To understand just how spurious this example is, note that:
1. The government of Sudan is not seen by Britain to be an occupying power.
2. The permits & what they allow them to do / not do, are presumably carefully documented, checked by various lawyers & certified copies filed away somewhere securely.
3. The terms of the permits are presumably adhered to, without massive ad-hoc undocumented changes to the mission.

I’m sure if I looked into it in more detail, many more details would show just what a ridiculous comparison is being made here.

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

From:
The Times

Neil MacGregor: ‘There is no possibility of putting the Elgin Marbles back’
Richard Morrison
Published at 12:01AM, November 7 2014

The British Museum director explains why the Parthenon Sculptures will not be returned to Greece during his tenure

If he’s a man under pressure he seems blithely unaware of it. At precisely 8.58am last Tuesday morning a dapper 68-year-old docks his Boris bike and walks through the great gates of his institution, which are still closed to the public. “Morning, Neil,” says the security guard. “Gentleman from The Times waiting to see you.” The director of the British Museum has arrived for work.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 6, 2014

Venizelos offers Britain other loans in return for Marbles

Posted at 8:28 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Reading some of this article feels a bit like history repeating itself. Back in late 2002, when Evangelos Venizelos was Culture Minister, he presented the UK with a summary of the limitations of Greece’s demands for the Marbles, along with what they might expect to receive in return. In effect, what he came up with was a win-win situation, although the British Museum refused to recognise it as such.

Many changes of government later, after being finance minister during possibly the toughest of times during the unravelling of the Greek debt crisis, Venizelos is now Deputy Prime Minister in the current coalition government. He has take the opportunity of announcing loans of artefacts to an exhibition in Canada, as an opportunity to re-iterate these demands. This is great news, as for many years, there was no clear offer on the table & there was much speculation in the absence of a new offer, as to whether the old one was still valid. What Venizelos describes here sounds remarkable similar – if anything more flexible (perpetual loan, rather than a series of separate short term loans).

As a separate point, in the past, I have highlighted that Greece has never really withdrawn cooperation from Britain to put pressure on them in the way that other countries (notably Iran) have tried to, to secure artefact returns. From what Venizelos describes though, it seems that the deal with Canada could be the evidence of a similar sort of strategy. Greece will not stop cooperating with Britain – but it will offer greater levels of cooperation to other countries wanting to organise temporary exhibitions etc.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos

From:
Ottawa Citizen

Greece hopes exhibit at Museum of History will help free Elgin Marbles from Britain
Don Butler
Published on: November 3, 2014Last Updated: November 3, 2014 1:30 PM EST

ATHENS • Greece hopes a blockbuster exhibit coming to the Canadian Museum of History next year will boost its argument for repatriating the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum, foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos said Monday.

In an act the Greeks have long characterized as looting, British diplomat Lord Elgin removed about half of the surviving classical Greek sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens between 1801 and 1812 and shipped them to Britain.

The British government purchased the artifacts in 1816 and passed them to the British Museum in London, where they remain on display to this day.

In a meeting with Canadian journalists and officials from the Canadian Museum of History, Venizelos was asked if Greece’s willingness to allow more than 500 rare artifacts to travel to Canada and the United States was partly a tactic to ramp up pressure on the British to return the long-sought sculptures.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 4, 2014

Ethics of art repatriation and responsibility to protect heritage

Posted at 10:27 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

In this interview, Smithsonian curator Masum Momaya talks (amongst other things) about the patronising way that the British Museum continues to rebuff any claims made by India for the restitution of artefacts taken from the country during the time of the Raj.

The Sultanganj Buddha is one of many artefacts in the UK subject to ownership claims by India

The Sultanganj Buddha is one of many artefacts in the UK subject to ownership claims by India

From:
Financial Chronical (India)

A sense of history
By Gargi Bhattacharya
Nov 03 2014

Smithsonian curator Masum Momaya on the ethics of art repatriation and the moral responsibility of countries to preserve their culture and heritage

A curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Masum Momaya has a 20-year experience working for gender, race and class equality, and her curatorial portfolio includes multimedia, multilingual and themed exhibitions. The Stanford University graduate and Harvard University post-graduate is in India to showcase her exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, in collaboration with the American Center. Of Indian-American descent herself, Momaya prides herself on being able to situate her work in the best of both worlds. Excerpts from the interview…

As a curator of some experience, how would you say Indian heritage is represented in western museums?
Read the rest of this entry »

Challenging the inalienability of artefacts in French museums

Posted at 10:11 pm in Similar cases

In recent years, France’s museums have been heavily hit with legal challenges – where the original owners have tried to reclaim what they believe is still rightfully theirs.

While the British Museum falls back on the anti-deaccessioning clauses in the British Museum Act as their first line of defence against such claim, France has their own version of this dating back to 1566, when the edict of Moulins proclaimed that the royal domain was inalienable and imprescriptible. Although its origins might be very different, for a long time, the net result was the same – once an item became the property of a French Museum, it was unlikely that its ownership would ever be transferred again to anywhere else.

Gradually though, this notion is being eroded – both by moral obligations & legal challenges. France is finally starting to re-think its past, in the context of today – surely it is time that the British Museum followed this lead.

Baba Merzoug, a 16th-century cannon from Algiers that was taken to Brest in 1834

Baba Merzoug, a 16th-century cannon from Algiers that was taken to Brest in 1834

From:
Guardian

French museums face a cultural change over restitution of colonial objects
Curators confront demands to return artefacts from collections reflecting an evolving attitude to the appropriation of items
Laurent Carpentier
Monday 3 November 2014 10.08 GMT

Ever since explorers, scientists and soldiers started travelling the world and bringing back treasures, France has upheld the principle of the “inalienability” of public heritage. The works that are now in French museums and collections will, supposedly, remain a part of national heritage for ever. This principle was established in 1566, when the edict of Moulins proclaimed that the royal domain was inalienable and imprescriptible. In simpler terms: the sovereign could not give away the assets he or she inherited. Two centuries later, the French revolution based its definition of the public domain on the same principle. It was the only point of reference for explorers sailing round the world in search of possessions and learning.

But in the past few years, changes in the international balance of political and economic power have upset this way of thinking. Demands for restitution have targeted anything from works of art to human remains and archaeological finds. Particularly odd examples include a fossil Mosasaurus (Meuse lizard), which was unearthed at Maastricht in the 18th century and brought back to France by the army, and Baba Merzoug, a 12-tonne cannon that defended the port of Algiers for 200 years, then was shipped to Brest in 1834 where it has braved the drizzle ever since.
Read the rest of this entry »

Amal Clooney née Alamuddin & the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 9:54 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

In the coverage of the visit to Greece by a team of Lawyers, much has been made of the presence of one particular individual on the team. This person is of course Amal Clooney, previously known as Amal Alamudddin. While the amount of additional publicity she created for the issue is amazing, the interpretation of her presence and the level of the questions asked by many of the newspapers is somewhat lacking.

Some stories claim that she is there to rescue the Marbles for Greece (with the implication that it would be done singlehandedly). Other stories take the opposite line & claim that she is only there because of her celebrity status. This claim is a blatant untruth based on nothing more than spurious conjecture, as she was in fact involved with research into this case since well before she became associated with George Clooney.

Still other papers criticise her (& often her husband too) for having opinions – as though when one becomes famous their opinions cease to have any basis. Unsurprisingly to many, these are the same papers that spend the rest of their time focusing on celebrities, speculating on their every move & reflecting on their choice of outfit every time they leave the house.

Amal Alamuddin & Geoffrey Robertson

Amal Alamuddin & Geoffrey Robertson

From:
Independent

Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: ‘Injustice has persisted for too long’
The human rights barrister said Greece has ‘just cause’ to wish for the repatriation of the artifacts
Wednesday 15 October 2014

Amal Alamuddin – who recently changed her name to Amal Clooney following her marriage – today spoke of the “injustice” that the Elgin Marbles have not yet been returned from Britain to Greece.

The human rights barrister has been enlisted to advise the Greek government on the issue.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 3, 2014

Different types of artefact dispute

Posted at 10:57 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The list of disputed artefacts from The Guardian is different to many others, in that it has widened its remit, to include any artefact that have some dispute relating to them. as a result, while some are well know restitution cases such as the Bust of Nefertiti or the Parthenon Marbles, in other cases the dispute relates to who the work itself actually depicts, or who originally produced the painting. as a result, it ends up a rather confused list, presenting a mixed message, where well grounded restitution cases such as the Parthenon Sculptures are mixed up with discussions over the authenticity of works by Pollock.

That is not to say that the list is without interest however – if anything, it helps to reinforce the importance of provenance in giving the true value to a work of art. Without it, the matter of where it came from & who created it will always be the subject of debate.

Picasso's Boy leading a horse in the MoMA is subject to claims that it was looted during the holocaust

Picasso’s Boy leading a horse in the MoMA is subject to claims that it was looted during the holocaust

From:
Guardian

The 10 best disputed artworks
Laura Cumming
Friday 31 October 2014 12.00 GMT

As Greek efforts to reclaim the Parthenon Marbles receive a boost from Amal Clooney, Laura Cumming considers other artworks caught up in legal and artistic wrangling

The Parthenon Marbles
The great frieze of figures removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century remains the most perennially disputed of all artworks, the arguments as divided as the sculptures themselves – the goddess Iris’s head is in Athens, her body in the British Museum; Poseidon’s torso is split between them. Defenders argue that Elgin bankrupted himself to save the marbles from local destruction, with full Greek authority, and London is their legal home. The opposition (which has included Byron, Christopher Hitchens and of course now the Clooneys) argues that the marbles were literally “ripped off” the Parthenon, and ruinously scoured, and must be returned to Greece.

The Household of Philip IV, ‘Las Meninas’, Kingston Lacy, Dorset
In 1814 an Englishman abroad thought he had come upon Velázquez’s first version of Las Meninas (1656) – not that he, or practically anyone else at that time, had seen the original in the Spanish royal palace. William Bankes MP bought the canvas for Kingston Lacy, his Dorset home, calling it “the pride of England”. It shows the celebrated scene on a much smaller scale and with strange anomalies, not least the fact that the famous mirror at the back is empty. Some believe it to be a preliminary oil sketch, most that it is undoubtedly a copy by his son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. The row still rages: the Prado held a conference only this year.
Read the rest of this entry »

Even better than the real thing? – British Museum & 3D prints

Posted at 10:42 pm in British Museum

The British Museum has just announced that it is going to make available 3D models of some of its artefacts, that anyone can use to create 3D prints, or view from different angles on screen.

3D prints are in some ways better than the actual artefacts in the museum, as they can be studied from any angle & handled without worrying about damaging a priceless treasure. On the other hand though, no matter how realistic they might be, they are not the actual object – they do not carry its history & they do not typically contain the depth of information, that might allow later studies using newer technologies, to understand more about the piece (e.g. to more accurately date it, to analyse the chemical makeup of the surface etc).

In the past, the British Museum has provided copies to the original owners of disputed works In this case though, one wonders why it can’t be the other way round – that the British Museum keeps the copy & the actual treasure is returned to its rightful owners.

You can view the artefacts currently available for 3D printing at the Sketchfab website.

The statue of Amenhotep III is among those available to be 3D printed

The statue of Amenhotep III is among those available to be 3D printed

From:
Slash Gear

British Museum now lets you 3D print artifact replicas
Oct 31, 2014

3D printing is slowly but surely becoming more available to the average consumer, and the possibilities for it are vast. While the technology is being used to tackle projects as expansive as home construction and food in space, it is also being utilized at the simpler level for creating things like replacement knobs and personalized action figures. Among those simpler uses is the ability to print your own replica of historical items.

Do you fancy have a replica of Amenemhat III’s granite bust? Now you can, thanks to a new collection of downloadable 3D models the British Museum has made available through Sketchfab, which is the first service to host the collection.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 2, 2014

Once again, members of the public take moral lead in restitution

Posted at 11:04 pm in Similar cases

A Canadian tourist has returned fragments they removed from the ancient city of Pompeii. This restitution took place fifty years after the fragment was originally removed. The return was not the result of a demand by the Italian government, or any form of legal action – but happened merely because the person who took it realised that returning it was the right thing to do.

This is not the first time something like this has happened – a fragment of the Colosseum was returned in similar circumstances in 2009. If only some museums could take similar decisions, realising that they need to put right things that they did wrongly in the past.

Policing vast sites like Pompeii is not easy

Policing vast sites like Pompeii is not easy

From:
Daily Telegraph

By Nick Squires, Rome
1:50PM GMT 31 Oct 2014
Pompeii artefact returned fifty years after it went missing by the honeymooning woman who stole it

A Canadian tourist has returned a 2,000-year-old terracotta artefact to Pompeii – half a century after she stole it on a trip to the archaeological site on her honeymoon.

The woman from Montreal, who is in her seventies, said the theft of the first century AD terracotta roof decoration had weighed on her conscience for decades.
Read the rest of this entry »

Culture wars – The return of Dr James Cuno

Posted at 10:47 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

James Cuno will be a familiar figure to long time readers of this blog. Representing the anti-restitution side of the museum establishment in the USA, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the return of artefacts. At times in recent years, it has seemed as though his stance has been mellowing, but his latest article shows that this is clearly not the case.

Following James Cuno’s article, is a critique of it by Dr Kwame Opoku – who is amongst other things a long standing detractor of Cuno’s Encyclopaedic Museum theory.

James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

From:
Foreign Affairs

Culture War
The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts

By James Cuno
From our November/December 2014 Issue

In December 2007, the Italian government opened an exhibition in Rome of 69 artifacts that four major U.S. museums had agreed to return to Italy on the grounds that they had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum. With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship.

Rutelli has hardly been the only government official to insist that artifacts belong to the places from which they originally came. In 2011, the German government agreed to return to Turkey a 3,000-year-old sphinx that German archaeologists had excavated from central Anatolia in the early twentieth century. Afterward, the Turkish minister of culture, Ertugrul Gunay, declared that “each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”
Read the rest of this entry »

October 27, 2014

Expropriation of artefacts as a demonstration of power

Posted at 9:55 pm in Similar cases

This article is prompted by the current state of affairs in Iraq & Syria, where ISIS fighters are systematically destroying heritage from cultures that do not fit entirely into their worldview. This is not a new approach however & has been going on for as long as people can remember. The means & the stated aims might vary, but the end result – denigration of the culture of the local population – is invariably the outcome.

The empty seat once occupied by the Bamiyan Buddhas before they were systematically destroyed by the Taliban

The empty seat once occupied by the Bamiyan Buddhas before they were systematically destroyed by the Taliban

From:
Guardian

If great architecture belongs to humanity, do we have a responsibility to save it in wartimes?
Jeff Sparrow
Tuesday 7 October 2014 03.25 BST

The lands of Syria and Iraq gave rise to some the oldest societies we know: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Parthians, the Romans and many others. Traces of all of these peoples remain in archeological sites of the utmost significance.

And now they’re being destroyed.

A fortnight ago, satellite imagery revealed the cultural effects of Syria’s civil war. “The buildings of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has suffered extensive damage,” explained Archaeology magazine. “The ancient city of Bosra, the ancient site of Palmyra, the ancient villages of Northern Syria, and the castles Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have all been damaged by mortar impacts and military activity.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Met forced to organise Seljuk exhibition without Turkish loans

Posted at 9:38 pm in Similar cases

For a few years now, Turkey has been trying increasingly hard to make life awkward for countries & institutions holding disputed Turkish artefacts. Undeterred by this (or perhaps brimming with bullish over-confidence that Turkey will capitulate), New York’s Metropolitan Museum is attempting to organise a Seljuk exhibition without any loans from Turkey. No actual loan requests have been refused as such, but preliminary discussions indicated that cooperation from Turkey would not be forthcoming, meaning that the Met decided against asking for any loans.

The Seljuks were the Turkish dynasty that existed prior to the Ottomans. as such, Turkey holds by far the largest collection of artefacts from the period. Organising an exhibition without these is significantly harder than it would otherwise have needed to be.

Greece on the other hand has always made a point of continuing to cooperate with Britain over other matters, while maintaining their stance on the Parthenon Sculptures. This is despite many opportunities to block loans for exhibitions, or to not issue permits for British archaeologists etc. Whilst this spirit of cooperation, of not connecting what are in reality disparate items is admirable, I can’t help feeling sometimes that Britain needs to be made to feel a bit less comfortable about their position. The British museum does not deal with the Parthenon Marbles issue in a serious way, because it doesn’t feel that it has to. It has kept up this approach for many years now & everything else continues to happen as normal.

Socrates in discussion with his pupils, Seljuk manuscript from 13thcentury, Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Library

Socrates in discussion with his pupils, Seljuk manuscript from 13thcentury, Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Library

From:
Art Newspaper

No Turkish loans for big Seljuk Turk show planned by the Met
Thorny early discussions with Ankara deterred the US museum but Turkish attitude now appears more conciliatory
By Tim Cornwell. Museums, Issue 261, October 2014
Published online: 09 October 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is organising a major exhibition on the Seljuks, whose medieval Islamic empire expanded from central Asia into much of modern Anatolia in Turkey, without loans from Turkey, The Art Newspaper has learned. Experts fear that loans from any collections in Iran or Russia will also be missing in the Met’s show.

The Met’s problem securing Turkish loans echoes those surrounding the British Museum’s exhibition on the Hajj, which went ahead in London in 2012 without Turkish artefacts after tangled disputes over an inscribed stele with a relief of Herakles, which have yet to be resolved.
Read the rest of this entry »