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Italy plans to lend Parthenon sculpture fragment to Greece

Italy has made the brave move, of being the first country to commit to returning a fragment from the Parthenon Sculptures. It might be a small fragment, but it is a start, and will increase the pressure on other institutions to follow suit.

Guardian [1]

Italian loan puts marbles pressure on British Museum
Fiachra Gibbons, arts correspondent
Friday December 13, 2002
The Guardian

Italy yesterday put further pressure on the British Museum to hand back the Elgin Marbles to Greece by returning a fragment of the contested 4th century BC frieze they themselves looted.

The choice of a piece of a statue of Peitho, the goddess of persuasion and seduction, on a long-term loan back to Athens could not have been more diplomatically powerful. A similar deal offered to Britain last month in an attempt to get the marbles back in time for the 2004 Olympics was rebuffed.

It comes after three days of manoeuvring on the marbles, which culminated in a declaration by a group of the greatest museums in the world that artefacts of universal importance, like the Parthenon frieze and the British Museum’s similarly controversial collection of Benin bronzes, should not be repatriated.

The Greeks suspect the statement, made at a conference in Munich in October, was engineered by the British Museum, which then stepped back from signing the agreement in what they called a “classic” diplomatic ruse to appear reasonable.

The British Museum last night denied acting perfidiously. “We did not sign because we did not want the statement centred on the claims on the Elgin Marbles,” a spokesman said. “The statement was purely in support of the universal museums concept.”

The British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles was dismissive of the declaration by the museums, which included the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and the Berlin Museum.

“Such unilateral, absolute ‘declarations’ are not sustainable in the modern world,” it insisted. “Declarations of this kind should be the outcome of discussion and consultation beyond the small circle of self-styled ‘universal’ museums.”

It claimed the director of the British Museum recently rebuffed an approach by the Greek government proposing cultural collaboration of a new kind in the display of the Parthenon sculptures.

“The proposal was not, strictly speaking, a request for ‘return’ or ‘restitution’, but rather a suggestion that the two museums and the two governments concerned enter into a voluntary agreement for joint care of these antiquities in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

“It was also a request for the reunification of a divided entity – the sculptures of the Parthenon. The principle of seeking to reunite divided antiquities has been accepted by many eminent museums over recent years,” the committee claimed in a statement.

In another twist to the saga, the historian Ellis Tinios has claimed that the statues, carved by Pheidias on the top of the Parthenon, were saved from a worse fate by Lord Elgin when he removed them in 1801. Those parts of the frieze that remained in Greek hands were in a far worse state now than those in London, he claimed in an article in The Art.

“Destruction would have continued unabated for several more decades and far less sculpture would survive in readable form today if Elgin had not acted,” Tinios argued. “His cure may have been drastic, but it worked. Those pieces Elgin removed from the Parthenon were not only spared piecemeal damage and destruction in the last decades of Ottoman administration of Athens, but also the risks occasioned by the two sieges of the Acropolis that occurred in 1822 and 1827 during the Greek war of independence.

“The material removed to London was also spared the devastation that befell all the sculptures that remained exposed on the Acropolis: dissolution in the polluted atmosphere of Athens.”

Kathimerini (English Edition) [2]

Thursday December 12, 2002 – Archive
Divine persuasion for Marbles

Italy confirmed yesterday that it will return to Greece, on a long-term loan, a small fragment of sculpted marble that once adorned the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens.

After a meeting in Athens with his Greek counterpart, Evangelos Venizelos, Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani said Rome was “committed” to sending back the 34×35-centimeter piece from the 162-meter Parthenon frieze. The fifth-century-BC fragment, which depicts in relief the foot of the minor goddess Peitho, was bought by the University of Palermo around 1820 from the widow of the local British consul, Robert Fagan. It is now displayed in Palermo’s Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum — which has declared itself loath to lose the piece.

“The regional government of Sicily has accepted to lend Greece, in a very short time and for a very long period, the fragment from the Parthenon,” Urbani said. He added that, in return, “again in a very short time and for a very long period,” Greece would lend an artifact of its own to Sicily. No details were released on when the fragment would come to Greece, or for how long. In October, Sicily’s cultural commissioner, Fabio Granata, said it would likely be for 99 years, “so as not to upset the archaeological community.”

This might still happen, as, for Greece — which is campaigning for the return, before the 2004 Olympics, of the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles on a long-term loan — the return of Peitho’s foot will be a major public-relations coup.

“It may be a small fragment but it has great symbolic value, and its return can serve as a very good omen for the reunification of all the Parthenon Marbles,” Venizelos said. Fittingly for the ancient Greeks, Peitho, an attendant of Aphrodite, personified persuasion and seduction.

Ananova [3]

Italy promises loan of Parthenon sculpture

Italian culture minister Giuliano Urbani has promised to return a fragment of the 5th century BC Parthenon to Greece on a long-term loan.

The gesture is likely to strengthen Greek calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum in London to be displayed in Athens during the 2004 Olympics.

The fragment is part of the statue of Peitho, goddess of persuasion and seduction, and is about 14in high and 13.6in wide.

It is housed in Sicily, at the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo.

“In a very short time, a piece of the Parthenon that is in our museum in Sicily will be loaned to Greece on a long-term basis,” Mr Urbani said, after meeting Greek culture minister Evangelos Venizelos.

In return, Greece will loan an unspecified work of art to Italy, Greek and Italian officials said.

Greece has campaigned for years for the return of the Elgin Marbles – 17 figures and part of a frieze from the Parthenon, removed 200 years ago by Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

In a letter made public at the weekend, directors of several major museums around the world warned of the “essentially destructive nature of the repatriation of objects”.

Signatories include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Berlin Museum.

Story filed: 04:28 Thursday 12th December 2002

Associated Press [4]

Italy Promises Sculpture Loan to Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP)–Italy promised Wednesday to lend Greece a 5th century B.C. statue from the Parthenon it acquired years ago.

The deal is a new twist in the debate over the Parthenon marbles. The bulk of them, known as the Elgin Marbles, are in the British Museum, which has refused to let them go.

The piece in question is the statue of Peitho, goddess of persuasion and seduction, and is about 14 inches high. It has been on display at the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Sicily.

Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani met with Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and said the piece would be loaned “on a long-term basis.”

In return, Greece will loan an unspecified artwork to Italy.

The return comes as Greece is in a fierce debate with the British Museum over the Elgin Marbles. Greece wants the items at least for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The museum has refused. It was backed by the directors from 18 leading museums, who issued a statement criticizing the “essentially destructive nature of the repatriation of objects.”

The Elgin Marbles were removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

The fragment in Sicily was purchased by the University of Palermo between 1818 and 1820 from the widow of Robert Fagan, a British consul for Sicily and Malta and an amateur archaeologist. It is not known how Fagan acquired it.

AP-NY-12-11-02 1605EST