Trustees Defend Elgin Marbles

LONDON -- In response to never-ending requests of repatriation of the famed Elgin Marbles to Greece, the British Museum has released a position statement setting which justifies their possession of the historic works, otherwise known as the Parthenon Sculptures.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network applaud the academic tone of this document.

The Acropolis Museum in Athens displays many Parthenon sculptures and has requested repatriation of all the works. The Parthenon sculptures in London represent 30% of the total scheme.

However, the British Museum -- which considers itself a repository of world civilization -- purports that the current division allows "different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures".

Their new document highlights some '"common misconceptions":

1) All of the sculptures from the Parthenon are in the British Museum?

Wrong! Around 40% of the sculptures from the Parthenon are now irrecoverably lost, destroyed over the 2,500 years of the building’s history.

Of the sculptures that still exist, 30% are in Athens and 30% are in London. The rest are in museums in six countries, including the Louvre and the Vatican.

2) The Parthenon sculptures now in the British Museum were stolen?

In accordance with British law at the time, Lord Elgin, the diplomat who transported the sculptures to England, acted with the full knowledge and permission of London authorities.

Lord Elgin’s activities were thoroughly investigated by a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816 and found to be legal. Following a vote of Parliament, the government, funded the acquisition of the Parthenon Sculptures by the Trustees of the British Museum for the benefit of all people.

3) The Greek government has asked for a loan of the sculptures which has been turned down by the British Museum?

The Trustees have never been asked for a "loan" of the Parthenon sculptures by the Greek government -- only for the permanent removal of all of the sculptures back to Athens.

The simple precondition required by the Trustees before they consider to lend any object is that the borrowing institution agrees to return the item and keep it safe.

The British Museum is currently lending 24 objects to two exhibitions in Athens at the Museum of Cycladic Art. So they are certainly not averse to the concept of loaning out Greek antiquities.

In 2002 Sir John Boyd, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, wrote a letter to the Greek Culture Minister, Evangelos Venizelos. This letter clarified the position of the Trustees following those conversations and was not, as has been suggested, a response to a formal loan request.

In response, Greek authorities made it clear at the time, and subsequently since then, that they do not acknowledge the Trustees’ ownership of the Parthenon sculptures in their care, and therefore are not able to provide the required reassurances that the objects would be safely returned.

4) The sculptures could be reunited on the Parthenon?

Bringing the Parthenon sculptures back together into a unified whole is impossible.

The complicated history of the Parthenon meant that -- already by 1800 -- roughly 40% of the sculptures had been destroyed. Nobody would now advocate for the sculptures to be installed on the Parthenon building.

Though partially reconstructed, the Parthenon is still a ruin. It is universally recognized that the sculptures that still exist could never be safely returned to the building. They are best seen and above all conserved in museums.

5) The British Museum could set up an outpost in Athens?

The Trustees of the British Museum believe that the sculptures need to continue to be seen within the context of the world collection established in London, thus deepening understanding of their significance within world cultural history.

This set-up provides the ideal complement to the display in the Acropolis Museum, where the Parthenon sculptures in Athens are seen within the specific context of ancient Greek and Athenian history.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video recaps the 200-year controversy over the Elgin Marbles.