August 31, 2006

Returned artefacts from Getty on display in Greece

Posted at 9:56 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The handover of two artefacts from the Getty to Greece has finally taken place & the returned pieces are now temporarily on display in the Athens Archaeological Museum. Hellenic Republic Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis uses the moment of the handover to reflect on the numerous other restitution cases that Greece is still pursuing. He also highlights the importance of the Parthenon & its sculptures to Greeks (something that the British Museum has never seemed to grasp) with the statement “For us, even a gram from the Parthenon equals thousands of years of world history“.
This is an Associated Press syndicated article which appeared in many newspapers around the world.

International Herald Tribune

Greece displays returned Getty antiquities, vows to seek more repatriations
The Associated Press
Published: August 31, 2006

ATHENS, Greece Greek officials vowed to step up their fight to reclaim the country’s plundered heritage after taking delivery Thursday of two ancient sculptures returned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Presenting the artifacts in Athens, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said their repatriation was important “both symbolically and practically.”

“The days when foreign museums and private collectors were able to buy undocumented antiquities are over,” he told reporters at the National Archaeological Museum, where the sculptures will be temporarily displayed. “A new wind is now blowing.”

In a landmark decision in July, the private U.S. museum agreed to return the two sculptures — that date to the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. — after intense pressure from Greece, which maintained they were illegally spirited out of the country.

Greek officials and Getty officials will hold more talks in Athens next month on the possible return of a gold wreath and a marble statue currently in the museum’s collections.

A deal could involve long-term loans of Greek antiquities to the Getty.

Voulgarakis said Greece will seek the return of “every ancient Greek artifact for which we have evidence that it was illegally excavated or trafficked.”

“We do not want to empty foreign museums,” he said. “But the antiquities trade must obey moral codes and legal strictures.”

Voulgarakis said he was planning a common front with Italy and Cyprus — fellow Mediterranean countries whose rich heritage has been extensively despoiled — to form a common European policy on the illegal antiquities trade.

Greece’s efforts will receive an important boost with the scheduled return from Germany on Monday of a sculptured marble chunk from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple in Athens.

It will be the first section of the Parthenon sculptures — much of which are held in the British Museum in London — to be repatriated, following an agreement with the University of Heidelberg.

In return, Voulgarakis said, Athens will send the university a marble head from a Roman statue, “not as a trade off but as a goodwill gesture.”

Greece has waged a long and fruitless campaign to win back the British Museum’s share of the Parthenon sculptures, removed 200 years ago from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin, a Scottish aristocrat.

“For us, even a gram from the Parthenon equals thousands of years of world history,” Voulgarakis said.

The two works returned from the Getty are a marble relief from the northern island of Thassos and a black stone tombstone thought to have been illegally dug up in the 1990s near Thebes — an antiquities-rich town some 56 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Athens.

The Thassos relief, which depicts two women offering gifts to a seated goddess, was found by French archaeologists about 100 years ago and stolen from a storeroom. The Getty bought it in 1955.

The tombstone, incised with the figure of a young warrior named Athanias, was acquired by the Getty in the early 1990s.

Both will be eventually displayed at museums in Thebes and Thassos.

Greek police have launched a crackdown on antiquities smuggling, with raids this year on two island villas whose owners are linked with the international art trade.

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