December 13, 2014

Parthenon sculpture Hermitage loan – readers respond

Posted at 2:46 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

As one would expect, the controversial move by the British Museum to lend one of the Parthenon Marbles to Russia has illicited a number of responses from newspaper readers.

Visitors passing a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia

Visitors passing a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia


Squalid saga of Parthenon marbles loan to Russia
Sunday 7 December 2014

In loaning the Parthenon marbles statue of Ilissos to Russia (Loan shatters Elgin marbles claim, says Athens, 6 December), the British Museum has acted insensitively and foolishly. It is unseemly and squalid, after unanswered Greek requests for the marbles’ return, for the statue’s first move outside Britain to be to a country we ourselves have placed under sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. At a stroke the museum has legitimised Putin’s Russia at a time when the latter’s unpredictable aggression threatens Ukraine’s existence and Europe’s wider security.

Does the museum think itself exempt from the dynamics of contemporary European politics, and that cultural diplomacy will smooth over the current crisis? Consider this: right now the Netherlands is refusing to return Scythian gold, loaned before the illegal annexation of Crimea, to four museums now under Russian control there. What is to stop Russia holding Ilissos hostage in return? In April the Russian Itar-Tass agency reported that the refusal to return the gold would result in non-cooperation between Russian and EU museums. The British Museum may well have placed one of its most priceless artefacts in serious danger. Putin has shown himself indifferent about far more.
Tony King
Barnt Green, Worcestershire

If British people want to understand the point of view of the Greeks on the so-called “Elgin marbles”, please consider this hypothetical scenario: in the 15th century, Britain is occupied by the French. British people fall under oppressive French rule. Four centuries later, the Greek Mr Papadopoulos buys permission from French authorities to care for Big Ben. He moves half of it to his estate in Greece. Twenty years later, the British people start a revolution against the French and soon they acquire their independence. At the end of the 20th century, Britain asks for the repatriation of the “Papadopoulos steel”. Greece refuses to talk. The “Greek Museum” causes irreparable damage in the 1930s (see the Guardian, 14 April 2001), organises glamorous parties in the rooms where Big Ben (sorry: Papadopoulos Steel) is displayed in 1999 (see the Guardian, 8 November 1999) and it even gives some objects (say, the number 10 from the clock face) as a loan to a Chinese museum in 2014, while refusing to sit down with Unesco to discuss an offer of mediation on the issue in October 2013.

The director of the Greek Museum says publicly that the British government should be “delighted” with the loan, and that “the greatest things in the world should be shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible”. Well done, Mr Director. The British public would certainly appreciate your views.
Andreas Stalidis

Greece’s prime minister Antonis Samaras fulminates about Britain’s retention of parts of the Parthenon frieze. Meanwhile, one of the fragments of the frieze that remained in Greece, newly mounted in the Acropolis museum, is eroded by pollution and so horribly neglected by that long independent country that it can hardly be recognised.

Apart from other issues surrounding the marbles, how dare Greece put that sorry fragment on display and try to take the moral high ground about custodianship of the rest of the marbles? What is more, after years of overseas funding assistance, the Acropolis itself, the most famous archeological site in the western world, is still a dusty, un-energetic-looking, and disappointing mess. Where has all the money gone?
Richard Wilson

If someone stole my family heirlooms (don’t worry, I don’t have any) I’d be unimpressed if the thief then loaned them to someone else, on condition that they went back to the thief after two months. I’d be even less impressed if the thief asked me if I’d like to borrow them, so long as I returned them all safely to him.
Alan Burkitt-Gray

I’m wondering if the British Museum has checked on the potential for Greece to initiate legal proceedings in Russia to recover this item of the Elgin marbles. Does anyone out there really believe that Vladimir Putin thinks like a museum curator? The French have already said he can’t have the brand new French-built carrier that has been undergoing sea trials, with Russian sailors on board; they are contractually obliged to hand that over to Russia, but are refusing to do so.
Vaughan Thomas

British Museum lends Elgin marbles to Hermitage; later, Putin forwards it to Athens: two fingers to London. You read it here first.
John Smith
Lindfield, West Sussex

The British Museum’s attempts to improve the “frosty relations between Russia and the west in the wake of the invasion of eastern Ukraine” would have had more impact if the works of art loaned to the Hermitage museum actually belonged to Britain. Lending the Parthenon marbles, instead of, for example, some Turner landscapes or samples from the royal family’s vast collection, is simply provocative, and will do nothing but cause resentment in Greece, and display our hypocrisy to the world. How quick we are to offer judgments when Jewish-owned artwork is discovered in ex-Nazis’ homes (Modernist art haul, ‘looted by Nazis’, recovered by German police, 4 November).

Jonathan Jones has rightly argued that British museums must “face up to reality” and that “cultural imperialism” belongs in history’s dustbin, but clearly his passionate plea fell on deaf ears (The art world’s shame: why Britain must give its colonial booty back, 4 November). How can anyone justify, in the 21st century, the looting of Greek treasure by a greedy, profiteering British aristocrat, 210 years ago?

The return of the marbles is long overdue, would provide a welcome boost to an impoverished Greek economy, and would display some British acceptance of guilt for its imperial past. Lending some of the pieces to Russia is simply shameful, and questions must be asked about the role played in this by the secretary of state for culture.

Any political party with a sense of decency would include a promise to return the marbles to their rightful home in its election manifesto.
Bernie Evans


8th December 2014
Game of marbles

The loan of one of the so-called Elgin Marbles by the British Museum to Russia’s State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg raises a number of interesting issues.

Lending one of these disputed artefacts, the headless statue of the Greek river god Ilissos, is very much at odds with the increasing ostracism by the West of Russia over the Ukraine conflict and other East-West disputes. The UK is therefore being more than a little hypocritical in this respect, condemning Russia for its actions on the one hand and yet seeing fit to loan them one of these controversial sculptures.

It should also be noted the loan was only announced after the statue had already been spirited away to Russia.

Alex Orr
Leamington Terrace

The return of the sculptures, originally housed in the Parthenon and removed by Lord Elgin in 1801, has been sought by Greeks ever since they won their independence. But one of Britain’s longstanding arguments for keeping the works — that they are too delicate to be moved — has been contradicted by the loan to Russia. Indeed, there is also now a new state-of-the-art museum at the Acropolis designed to display the marbles, instead of replicas. This is in part to undercut the other argument against their return, which was that Greece had polluted air and no facilities to protect them.

It is clearly now time for a measured and rationale debate between the UK and Greek Governments to establish what the future is for these wonderful objects.

Name & address supplied

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  1. rogueclassicist said,

    12.13.14 at 7:20 pm

    Parthenon sculpture Hermitage loan – readers respond

  2. kerlaw said,

    12.13.14 at 8:53 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Readers respond on Parthenon sculpture Hermitage loan by British Museum

  3. Valerie Vegas said,

    12.14.14 at 12:11 am

    Valerie Vegas liked this on Facebook.

  4. GuyChamberland said,

    12.14.14 at 12:33 am

    RT @rogueclassicist: Parthenon sculpture Hermitage loan – readers respond

  5. Toronto_nian said,

    12.15.14 at 3:26 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Readers respond on Parthenon sculpture Hermitage loan by British Museum

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