November 13, 2002

British Museum claims return of Parthenon Marbles would rip the heart out of their collection

Posted at 7:27 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

The British Museum has responded to the recent calls from Greece for the return of the Elgin Marbles, suggesting that they have no intention on altering their position on the issue.


British Museum Resists Greece on Elgin Marbles
November 13, 2002 12:07 PM ET
By Christian Oliver

LONDON (Reuters) – Returning the Elgin marbles to Greece would rip the heart out of a collection that tells the story of human civilization, the British Museum said on Wednesday.

In a riposte to the latest efforts by Greece to repatriate the classical sculptures, the museum rejected proposals to send them back on a long-term loan basis.

Greece wants to have the marbles back as the centerpiece of a new museum at the Acropolis being built to coincide with the 2004 Summer Olympic games in Athens.

Greece’s culture minister Evangelos Venizelos, campaigning in London for the marbles’ return, said on Tuesday night the museum building plans were on track. “Everything is moving according to our strict timeplan,” he said. “I’m certain the unforgettable Melina Mercouri is observing our efforts with great satisfaction.”

The late singer and actress was the inspiration behind modern campaigns to return the marbles to Athens. “They are the essence of Greekness,” she once said.

However, the British Museum has released a statement saying that it is within its galleries that five million visitors are able to appreciate the masterpieces in their world context.

“To lend these objects would seriously impair the museum’s ability to fulfil its core function for the visitor,” said British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

To return the marbles permanently would require parliamentary sanction. Any scheme to send them back on long-term loan would have to be approved by museum trustees.

The marbles, a series of ancient sculptures depicting mythological and religious scenes, were brought from the Parthenon to Britain in the early 19th century by diplomat and art aficionado Lord Elgin.

A recent MORI poll revealed that 40 percent of Britons support the restitution of the marbles.

Venizelos proposed that the new Athens museum could display the marbles and in return the British Museum could have its pick of Greek treasures on rolling loan. Last month, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis presented British leader Tony Blair with his plans for the marbles, the first time Greece has taken its case directly to Downing Street.

British MP Richard Allan and Nicos Papadakis of the Greek Embassy told Reuters that whilst the official position remained unchanged, there was movement on the issue in the UK culture ministry. “Now Simitis has given the letter to Tony Blair it is impossible for him not to have a position on the subject,” Allan said.

Museums often argue that returning artifacts to their homelands would open floodgates of restitution demands. Venizelos dismissed this as a hollow argument, saying that the marbles were an unique case. He reckoned the issue of reuniting the marbles with those still in Athens was of greater importance than the question of ownership.

Kathimerini (English Edition)

Tuesday November 12, 2002 – Archive
In pursuit of Marbles, minister sees BM chief

A first day of intense Greek lobbying in London for the return of the Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon produced no tangible sign that the British Museum was any closer to sending the fifth-century BC works back to Athens.

Officials at the Bloomsbury-based museum denied reports that a change of stance might be on the cards, due to the British Museum’s current financial predicament.

Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos yesterday met the new museum director, Neil MacGregor, but refused to say what reception his proposal for a long-term loan of the Marbles to Athens — in return for rotating exhibitions of Greek antiquities in London — had met with. “The matter was not resolved,” he said, but claimed stronger pressure — last month, PM Costas Simitis raised the issue with Tony Blair — and the loan argument “is beginning to bear fruit.” Today, Venizelos will meet his UK counterpart, Tessa Jowell.


Elgin marbles fight intensifies
Tuesday, November 12, 2002 Posted: 2:43 AM EST (0743 GMT)

LONDON, England — Greece is continuing its diplomatic efforts to see the Elgin Marbles in Athens in time for the 2004 Olympics — despite a firm “no” from their British owner.

Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos is in London on Tuesday to campaign for the return of the marbles, which once adorned the Parthenon.

He has offered a selection of Greek treasures on rolling loan to the British Museum in exchange for lending Greece the marbles, and presented proposals for a new Acropolis gallery next to the Parthenon.

But museum director Neil MacGregor has insisted the frieze sculptures would not leave Britain.

“The trustees position is that the marbles are an integral part of the British Museum and they cannot be leant without damaging the museum’s role,” he said.

“There is no question of putting it back on the Parthenon, you can’t recover what’s lost, so you can’t actually recreate the integrity of the Parthenon as a work of art.

“It seems to us that to put the Parthenon sculptures (Elgin Marbles) in the best possible context is to put them in the museum.”

Venizelos, who was also meeting with his UK counterpart Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, said he was “optimistic” that the marbles would be returned to Greece but added that he was also realistic.

“This is our first contact. It’s very important for us to organise and to accelerate contacts between the two museums,” he said.

“I respect very much the British tradition, the British dignity and the British sensitivities about many matters and because of that my proposal is very flexible.

“For us the problem is not the ownership, the historical rights of the British Museum, but the problem is to reunite the marbles — to present the sculpture as a totality.”

The British Museum acquired the marbles from Lord Elgin in 1811 and owns about half of the sculpture that once adorned the Parthenon.

On Tuesday, Venizelos and the architect and director of the new Acropolis Museum will hold a public meeting in London’s Congress House to detail their efforts to provide a fitting home for the marbles in the Greek capital.

Two weeks ago, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis raised the return of the marbles with his UK counterpart, Tony Blair, in Downing Street.

BBC News

Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 15:08 GMT
Elgin Marbles ‘return’ denied

The British Museum has hit back at reports it intends to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens in exchange for a series of Greek artefacts, to reduce its £6m debt.

Any suggestion that the sculptures are to leave the museum are “total nonsense”, its spokesman told BBC News Online.

“People expect to see the marbles in the museum – they are part of its core collection and are the property of its trustees, who are forbidden by legislation to dispose of them,” he said.

But The Independent on Sunday (IoS) claimed that the museum’s new director, Neil MacGregor, was “understood to be contemplating a deal” to help its beleaguered finances.

The museum’s spokesman said that while the museum was considering plans to rotate certain artefacts with treasures from abroad, anything from its “core collection” was staying put.

The controversial issue of the marbles is to be discussed on Monday afternoon by the Greek culture minister Evangelos Venizelos and the director of British Museum, Neil MacGregor.

The marbles depict the most formal religious ceremonies of ancient Athens – the Panathenaea procession.

Although they once adorned the frieze of the front of the Parthenon, they were taken from Athens to England by the seventh Earl of Elgin and given to the museum in 1816.

They have been at the centre of a row between Britain and Greece since Elgin was given permission to work on their protection in 1801 when Greece was still under Ottoman (Turkish) control.


A recent campaign, Parthenon 2004, backed by more than 90 UK MPs and public figures, called for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the next Olympic Games.

Groups opposing their return say they have been saved from deterioration from Greek pollution by being kept in the museum.

The British Museum’s spokesman also denied that Egypt wanted its mummies returned, referring to another story in the IoS.

The newspaper stated that the government was to recommend policy changes over “the mass repatriation of human remains to their countries of origin”.

‘No pressure’

The museum is famed for its collection of mummies, coffins and artefacts from Egypt.

The newspaper said the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has suggested it would “welcome” the return of relics, including the British Museum’s mummies.

But the museum’s spokesman said there was “no pressure” from Egypt to return the mummies, and that they also would be staying put.

He confirmed that the government report, which will also include plans for remains in cemeteries and hospitals, was due out before Christmas.

Extra funding

The report is being compiled by leading academics and curators and was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The British Museum was recently awarded extra funding from the DCMS, but the museum’s officials said it would not be enough for the institution’s long-term plans.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell made the announcement as part of a £70m package of funding plans, said to be the largest-ever allocation of cash to regional museums from central government.

The British Museum will receive £36.8m, with an extra £400,000 in 2003 to re-open the Korean Galleries and others currently closed.

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