April 1, 2007

Greece requests return of Parthenon marbles

Posted at 12:50 pm in Elgin Marbles, Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

More coverage on the Greek requests for the return of the Parthenon Marbles & the decision by the Vatican not to return a portion of the Parthenon sculptures in their museum.

Globe & Mail (Canada)

Greece has eyes on Elgin marbles

ATHENS — Greece displayed two ancient, looted artifacts on Thursday that had been returned from the J.P Getty Museum and said the recovery of its most famous antiquities – the Elgin Marbles – was only a matter of time.

The Los Angeles-based Getty gave back a 4th century BC Macedonian gold wreath and a 6th century BC marble statue of a woman as part of their deal with Greece to return four objects from their collection that Greece says were the result of smuggling and illegal sale.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said their homecoming would strengthen international calls for the return of the Elgin marbles, which are called the Parthenon marbles in Greece.

The marble friezes and sculptures, removed from the Acropolis above Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin some 200 years ago, are currently housed in the British Museum.

Lord Elgin acquired his collection between 1801 and 1810. It was bought by the British Museum in 1816 and has been a major attraction there since.

“The ecumenical demand for uniting the marbles of the Parthenon is gaining in strength and reach,” Mr. Karamanlis said, flanked by the wreath and statue inside the National Archaeological Museum.

Britain has refused to return the marbles, saying they are better preserved in London.

Mr. Karamanlis said the completion of the new Acropolis Museum and the return of two fragments from the ancient monument by Sweden and Germany last year “evaporate the vague excuses for their non-return.”

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said the government’s work “will some day lead to the return of the Parthenon Marbles.”

Last December, the Getty, embroiled in an international scandal involving their former antiquities curator Marion True, agreed to return the two objects that Greece has long said were the result of illegal excavation and smuggling.

This is the second batch of ancient artifacts the Getty has handed back to Greece.

The Getty, one of the world’s richest institutions, said it approved the return of all four items after a scholarly review of information compiled by the Getty and supplied by Greece that indicated they rightfully belonged to Greece.

Ms. True faces criminal charges in Italy and Greece. She has denied the charges of conspiring to receive stolen goods.

A 2,400-year-old, black limestone stele – grave marker – and a marble votive relief dating from about 490 BC were returned in August.

The Times

From The Times
March 31, 2007
Saga of the ‘stolen’ gold wreath could loosen British hold on Elgin marbles
Ben Macintyre

The return to Greece of a spectacular Macedonian gold wreath from the 4th century BC may lead to the repatriation of several looted artefacts worth millions of pounds.

Court cases in Italy and Greece are increasing the pressure on museums around the world and could lead to widespread changes in the handling of ancient treasures.

The campaign to return stolen work to its country of origin has emboldened Costas Karamanlis, the Prime Minister of Greece, to predict that Britain will soon be forced to surrender the Elgin Marbles. Also at stake are hundreds of statues, bronzes, engravings and other artworks from museums in Europe, the US and Japan.

At the heart of this revolution is the landmark case of the funerary wreath, one of the most beautiful surviving examples of ancient craftsmanship, which was looted from Greece more than ten years ago. A delicate spray of gold leaves interwoven with coloured glass paste, the wreath was probably designed as a funeral gift and made soon after the death of Alexander the Great.

It was put on display in Greece for the first time this week after a long campaign to persuade the J. Paul Getty Museum, in California, to return it to its homeland.

Mr Karamanlis welcomed its return as evidence that Britain would soon be forced to relinquish the Elgin Marbles, which were acquired by the British diplomat Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1810 and are currently housed in the British Museum. Britain has argued that they are better preserved in London.

“The ecumenical demand for uniting the marbles of the Parthenon is gaining in strength and reach,” Mr Karamanlis said on Thursday at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The return by Germany and Sweden of two other fragments from the Acropolis “evaporate the vague excuses for their nonreturn”, he said.

The gold wreath was described by the magazine Newsweek as the “most stunning artwork” in the Getty collection, one of the world’s richest institutions. Greece has charged Marion True, the former curator at the Getty, with buying the looted artefacts illegally.

Ms True, 57, one of the world’s foremost authorities on ancient artefacts, is also on trial in Italy, accused of buying 42 items stolen allegedly from Italian archaeological sites.

The dispute has prompted intense debate over what constitutes a “national treasure”, and which institutions can best preserve antiquities.

The Getty Museum agreed to return the wreath, and three other items including the marble torso of a woman, after being shown evidence of their provenance by the Greek culture ministry. A 2,400-year-old limestone grave marker and a marble votive relief were returned last August.

The case against Ms True hinges partly on a letter that she wrote in 1992 to the Getty board, stating that the wreath was “too dangerous for us to get involved with”. A year later, however, she advised the board to buy the wreath through a Swiss dealer, Christoph Leon, for $1.15 million (£580,000). Mr Leon is also on trial in Greece. Ms True’s lawyer denies that she engineered the deal to make it appear legitimate.

The Greek and Italian governments have recently moved to clamp down on illegal trafficking. Many of the disputed items are believed to have been looted from the Etruscan necropolis of Cerveteri, north of Rome. In 1995, Swiss police raided a warehouse in Geneva and recovered photographs that apparently showed items that had been sold already by the looters.

Ms True, who is married to a French professor of architecture, spent millions of dollars buying high-profile artwork on behalf of the Getty Museum.

Her trial in Rome, on charges of conspiracy to smuggle antiquities and receiving stolen goods, began more than a year ago. Ms True has accused the Getty of leaving her to carry the burden of the museum’s acquisition practices alone. She has accused her former employer of lacking “courage and integrity”, and claimed that her superiors at the museum “were all fully aware of the risks involved in buying antiquities”.

After months of bargaining, the Getty agreed to return to Italy 26 of the 42 items that Ms True is accused of buying illegally, but the two sides remain deadlocked over the remaining artefacts. Ms True, 57, faces up to ten years in prison if convicted in either Greece or Italy.

One witness at the trial in Rome is Pietro Casasanta, an unashamed looter of ancient sites who claimed that the authorities had never interfered with his illegal activities previously. “No one bothered us, starting with the police,” he said. “For 50 years we were experts in archaeology, and then, from one day to the next, we became common thieves.”

It is notoriously difficult to identify the provenance of ancient artefacts. One of the disputed items in the Getty is a rare bronze statue of a youth from around 300BC, known as the Statue of a Victorious Youth. This was dredged up off the coast of Yugoslavia by Italian fishermen in 1964, who sold it. The object was shipped to Brazil, Britain, and Germany, where it was bought by Getty himself. “The bronze is a claim without any merit,” Michael Brand, director of the Getty, said recently.

The Getty has already been forced to return objects worth millions, and may have to surrender more. “The economic value is of little consequence,” said Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian federal prosecutor in the trafficking investigation. “What is important is the gain Getty will derive on the ethical plane. Moral gain is the reward.”

Hand it back

Elgin Marbles
Ever since 1820 the Greek Government has claimed that marbles should be returned to Athens on moral grounds, and a new Acropolis Museum has now been completed, leaving space for the missing parts of the Parthenon. The British Museum, however, argues that it is a world heritage centre, with a cultural collection spanning the globe.

Treasures of the Incas
The Peruvian Government has demanded the return, from Yale University, of all the artefacts taken from Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who discovered the Inca city on the Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911.

Mummy Mask
Egypt has threatened legal action against the Saint Louis Art Museum to recover a 3,200-year-old funerary mask, believed to be that of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, a noblewoman from the time of Rameses II. The museum obtained the relic in 1998, but Egypt claims it was stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Last year the Natural History Museum agreed to repatriate the remains of Australian aborigines, part of the vast collection of human remains from around the world held in the museum. The museum opted to keep the bones, teeth and other specimens for several more months to conduct scientific tests, but a Tasmanian group is now suing, saying the tests would desecrate the corpses.

Euphronios Krater
The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to return to Italy an ancient Greek vase for mixing wine and water known as the Euphronios Krater. The krater was purchased in 1971 for a record-breaking $1 million, but Italy claimed it was dug up from an Etruscan tomb just months before the sale.

Discovery Channel

Parthenon Fragments Won’t Go Back Home
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

March 30, 2007 — The Vatican is expected to announce its decision to keep some fragments of the Parthenon housed in the Vatican Museums, dashing Greek hopes that the artifacts would be returned to their homeland, according to the Italian press.

Greece officially requested the fragments last December, in a renewed attempt to resolve the longstanding dispute.

The country’s top religious leader Christodoulos, the Orthodox archbishop of Greece, asked for the sculpture fragments to be returned at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

According to press reports at the time, the Pope appeared a little perplexed by the request, but said he would consider it.

The horsemen, deities and other creatures — carved by Phidias in the 5th century B.C. — are scattered throughout several European museums, including the Louvre in Paris.

Greece has been demanding the return of 17 figures and 56 panels, which have come to be known as the Parthenon marbles, since the country’s independence from Turkey in 1829.

But most of the marbles are kept in London’s British Museum. Greece contends they were stolen in 1801 by Lord Elgin, a British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Britain claims Lord Elgin had permission from the ruling Turkish authorities to take them.

The British also contend the marbles have received better treatment at the British Museum, where they are safe from the polluted Athens air, which has damaged other Greek artifacts.

Greece’s desire to unify its artistic heritage took an unexpected turn last September, when the University of Heidelberg in Germany decided to return a fragment taken nearly 200 years ago from the Parthenon’s northern frieze.

The unprecedented move was done in an attempt to promote “the unification of the Parthenon as a unique monument of world culture,” the University of Heidelberg said in a statement.

The Vatican’s decision is likely to cause controversy — a gesture in favor of the reunification of the marbles would have held huge symbolic meaning.

The Vatican believes returning the marbles would create a precedent that could destabilize the entire museum system.

“Returning an artwork can create dangerous precedents. True, there is a territorial property, but we should not forget the cultural property which has been now acquired,” Vatican sources told the Italian press.

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  1. paul said,

    10.16.07 at 7:43 pm

    The Elgin marbles should be returned to Greece to who they belong to.

  2. max papadopoulos said,

    12.28.07 at 12:38 pm

    the marbles of parthenon is a gift for everyone citizen of the this world.
    A great station of art. But, the soul of this marbles, the soul of the gods and heroes belongs in parthenon. And parthenon is stil here ..in acropolis.in Athens.
    the marbles should be returned to greece because is a symbol of humanity and ancient
    greek culture.Mona liza has a very beautyful room in louvro. the marbles of parthenon
    have a very beautyful parthenon…
    maximos .piraeus .greece

  3. Stacy Woodward said,

    11.18.12 at 6:42 am

    I am writing a paper for my Art in Life class at ECU college. I had no idea we still face the same crosses the natives faced when the English stole there land and when we in slaved African Americans. How barbaric in 2012 we still face thievery with political justification.

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