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Some of the Lewis Chessmen to be reunited temporarily in Scotland

A announcement is expected to be made shortly, that some of the Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum [1] will temporarily be returned to Edinburgh. This follows numerous public demands in the past [2] for their return.

Whilst it is great that the British Museum is finally seeing the sense of making artefacts more accessible to those who culturally identify with them, this particular exercise suggests that it is acceptable to return artefacts that were legally purchased, whilst the many that were acquired in questionable circumstances are not suitable candidates for being reunified. I’m not quite sure what we should understand from this.

From:
Scotsman [3]

Lewis Chessmen to be reunited in Scotland for first time in 150 years
Published Date: 01 October 2009
By David Maddox
Scottish Political Correspondent

MANY of the 93 Lewis chessmen housed in London and Edinburgh will be reunited for the first time for more than 150 years for a tour of Scotland, it will be announced today.

Culture minister Mike Russell will unveil details of a deal with the British Museum to temporarily reunite the 12th-century chessmen found on a beach on the Isle of Lewis in 1831.

The deal was first revealed by The Scotsman in March.

At that point the British Museum had agreed that 25 of its 82 pieces could come up to Scotland to join a travelling exhibition with the 11 pieces held by the National Museum of Scotland.

Only part of the collection will come north because the British Museum regards the chessmen as one of its main visitor attractions.

However, sources in the Scottish Government suggest that the deal has since been improved and there is a chance that many more pieces will be included.

The tour follows recent pressure by the SNP Scottish Government to have the 82 pieces currently kept at the British museum repatriated to Scotland.

Former culture minister Linda Fabiani was sent to London to view the chessmen and make the public case.

But museum chiefs said moving the chessmen back to Scotland was impossible, since it would open a Pandora’s box for the return of artefacts.

The pieces, which were discovered in dunes on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis by Malcolm Macleod from Uig, will tour to Stornoway.

James Robinson, curator of the new Medieval Galleries at the British Museum, told The Scotsman in March that the tour was “the most sensible way to make (the pieces] accessible to the people of Scotland and the Island of Lewis”. He added: “It’s something we do periodically.”

The tour also follows ones around England where a few of the chessmen have been put on show in regional museums.

Unlike some of the British Museum’s controversial artefacts such as the Elgin marbles, the chessmen were not plundered but bought for 80 guineas from an Edinburgh dealer who himself had paid £30 for them.

Ten of the other 11 pieces were collected by Lord Londesborough and bought for the National Museum of Scotland in 1888 with another added later.

However, this has not stopped pressure for the others to be returned north of the Border and housed on Lewis.

Last night the Scottish Government refused to comment, but when The Scotsman first revealed the deal in March a spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has engaged in a number of talks with the British Museum and the museum has agreed in principle to collaborate with NMS to create an exhibition relating to the Lewis Chessmen in 2010-11 and would be willing to lend some of their collection.”

The tour has been welcomed by opposition MSPs who saw the controversy over the chessmen as a Nationalist ploy to stoke up calls for independence.

Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes said: “What the SNP suggested was crazy. This is a sensible, normal plan by the British Museum.”