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Littlestone
Littlestone
5381 posts

Edited Mar 18, 2017, 13:58
Re: Marbles
Mar 18, 2017, 13:09
GLADMAN wrote:
My understanding - perhaps erroneous - is that past Greek governments didn't give a monkey's about the Pathenon, which was allowed to fall into complete decay, even used as a fort during the Turkish occupation.


The Turkish military used the Parthenon for target practice, and if it hadn’t been for Elgin’s intervention both the Parthenon itself and the reliefs may have been totally destroyed (or at least very badly damaged). We’ve seen similar acts of vandalism over that last few years at places like Palmyra and the wanton destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan so, for different reasons (see below), I totally agree with you and others here about not returning the Parthenon Reliefs to Greece – at least not in the foreseeable future.

The issue of the Parthenon Reliefs being returned to Greece was discussed at some length on TMA years ago. More recently (3 April 2012) The Heritage Trust ran the feature below. It’s a bit long but one of the salient points is that the British Museum (by law) is not allowed to dispose, by any means, of an object in its collection. That is intended to protect the collection from being sold off or otherwise disposed of – as was the recent case of the The Egyptian Sekhemka statue. "The statue dates from 2,400-2,300bce and shows the Egyptian royal chief, judge and administrator reading a scroll while his wife kneels by his side. It was gifted to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880. Last year it was removed from the Museum by Northampton Borough Council (amidst protestations from the Egyptian authorities, the Museums Association and others) and put up for sale at Christie’s in London where it sold to an unknown buyer for £15,762,500. The proceeds were then shared with the present Lord Northampton (the Eton-educated peer whose fortune is estimated at £120m and which includes two stately homes, land, valuable paintings, furniture and a disputed Roman treasure hoard). Lord Northampton received 45% of the proceeds, Northampton Borough Council the rest and Christie’s a handsome commission. The sale resulted in the Council being banned from the Museums Association and has also had a Heritage Lottery Fund bid rejected as a consequence. The statue itself has not been seen in public since.” (source The Heritage Trust).

But back to the Parthenon Reliefs -

“Writing in The Guardian yesterday [2 April 2012], archaeologist Mike Pitts reports on the belief of some campaigning for the restitution of the Elgin Marbles to Greece that, “It [The Parthenon] inspired the Renaissance and Byron, and now the many who would like to see the bits in the British Museum – about half the surviving sculptures – given back to Greece.” But what part of Greece should the bits be given back to? Surely not (as Mike points out) to the Parthenon itself as that site remains a place of shambolic restoration where little or nothing ever seems to happen and where, in these cash-strapped times, that situation is unlikely to change (not to mention that the Parthenon is on a hilltop in the middle of one of Europe’s most polluted cities). So, if not to the Parthenon itself, then where? To the new Acropolis Museum in Athens? If the Elgin Marbles were moved there from the British Museum they would simply be moving from one museum to another – actually to a museum where fewer people are ever likely to see them.

“For those who argue that the Elgin Marbles are somehow unique shows a bias towards Western culture and an ignorance of the British Museum’s collection (and purpose). The Chinese have an equally valid case for having the Dunhuang paintings and manuscripts returned from the BM and the British Library – ditto Egyptian and Syrian objects to those countries. In fact 99% of the objects in the BM are unique, and a case could be made for the restitution of any and all of them. Result – a very dull if not half-empty British Museum.

“There are several points in the Elgin Marbles restitution argument (and the restitution of museum objects in general) that might be worth remembering. The first (unless the law has changed) is that the British Museum is unable to dispose, by any means, of an object in its collection. That, and national interests aside, would it actually benefit humanity to return the Elgin Marbles to their place of origin? The Marbles are a good example where it would not, as they would inevitably end up in the Acropolis Museum, not on the Parthenon, where they would be seen by fewer people than at present. Ironically, during the Olympics this year, more people are likely to see the Marbles at the British Museum than they would if they were on display in Athens. It’s also worth asking whether an object would be better conserved and displayed in its new location than its present location – if it isn’t then the case for restitution becomes null and void.

“Other points perhaps worth remembering are that, with advances in digital technology and the very high standard of reproductions now achievable, is it really necessary to have the ‘original’ on display in its place of origin (or, in some cases, even on display)? Surely the guiding principle should be how well an object can be preserved for posterity while allowing the maximum number of people to appreciate it (or a replica of it). We can see that trend already at Lascaux and at the Takamatsuzuka Kofun in Japan. There is, perhaps, at least one exception to that rule – ie when an object such as the Haisla totem pole which Mike Pitts mentions in his article, or any other object still forming part of a living tradition, has been taken out of that tradition and out of the context for which it was intended.”

For other arguments for and against (mostly against) the return of the Parthenon Reliefs type Elgin Marbles in the Search box on The Heritage Trust’s homepage.

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