Ten key statements about the Parthenon Marbles

Acropolis Museum

This post was prepared for the IOCARPM blog mid-year, but the issue of reunification of all the Parthenon Marbles in the Acropolis Museum is arguably the world’s most important and long-standing cultural property dispute. 

The Acropolis Museum in Athens is the rightful home for all of the remaining sculptures from the Parthenon.  Sitting below the Acropolis it is a world’s best practice museum, where the remaining sculptures are displayed in an authentic manner.

Figure 3 The Acropolis Museum

Why the Parthenon Sculptures should be returned by the British Museum.

1. The sculptures from the Parthenon, the Parthenon Marbles, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, are an integral part of the Parthenon. This beautiful Doric temple is the architectural wonder of the world. No other building has ever equalled its beauty, symmetry, and symbolism.

2. When we speak of the Parthenon we are not speaking of a single column or a single statue we speak of an integrated architectural, artistic, cultural, and spiritual expression, a unique symbol of Greece.

3. The Parthenon as an integrated whole has also become a symbol of Western civilization, and a global icon. Such a symbol is not divisible.

4. Lord Elgin was given permission to make architectural drawings and plaster casts from the Parthenon to improve the fine arts in Great Britain. He was also permitted to expose the ancient foundations and to remove fragments thrown to ground by the 1687 explosion. He was never granted permission to remove anything from any buildings on the Acropolis.

5. Greece had no say in the matter. Elgin took the Marbles from Greece while the country was under Turkish occupation. This was during a time when larger powers were pillaging antiquities from smaller countries, notably Greece and Egypt. Also, Britain was the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean at the time.

6. The British Museum has not protected the sculptures. In the period 1936-1939, the sculptures were irreparably damaged when they were scrubbed back to make them white, destroying their patina of ancient colours. Today the sculptures in the Athens museum are in far better condition than those in the British Museum, they are also being cleaned with the latest laser technology to retain their ancient patina.

 

Figure 4 Meticulous laser cleaning of the Parthenon Frieze

7. The British Museum does not display the sculptures in a manner that is meaningful to the world at large. They are presented as mere specimens, as curiosities, facing inwards not outwards to the world. They are kept in a room with poor lighting, inadequate climatic controls, and a skylight that sometimes leaks. Out of context in this poorly conceived space, it is impossible to gain a full understanding of their meaning.

 

Figure 5 The gloomy hall, Room 18, where the Parthenon Marbles are kept

 

Figure 6 The filthy skylight in Room 18 the British Museum’s Parthenon Sculpture Hall

 

Figure 7 Unlike the state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum the British Museum has the Parthenon Marbles in a space without effective climatic controls. This was a mid-summer’s day

 

8. In recent years the British Museum has divided the collection lending a sculpture to Russia and then moving others for specific exhibitions within the Museum. This further obscured their meaning.

 

Figure 8 A hoarding covering the space from which sculptures have been removed for the ‘Defining Beauty’ exhibition in 2015.

 

9. For years opinion polls and surveys in the United Kingdom have shown strong support for the return of the Marbles. Anyone visiting the Acropolis and the British Museum can see at firsthand the injustice of the British Museum and Government’s refusal to return them. Britain has an opportunity to show leadership in addressing cultural property disputes by returning the Marbles.

 

10. The Acropolis Museum has dedicated a special place for the Marbles. Here those remaining in Greece are displayed in the correct orientation, within clear view of the Parthenon, where they are bathed in natural light in the very context that gave rise to them and. It is time to correct a long-standing wrong and reunify these outstanding works.

The Parthenon Marbles cannot be separated from the context that gave rise to them.

 

 

One thought on “Ten key statements about the Parthenon Marbles

  1. Thank you for this blog Russell. There’s no doubt, understanding and respect go a long way in the case of the Parthenon Marbles. Their continued division – over 11 years since the opening of the Acropolis Museum – is a sad testament to those who continue to call such a division worthy of all who appreciate culture and heritage. Time for unconditional dialogue between two nations, that have ample respect for each other, to pave the way to the reunification of this peerless collection. And whilst we salute Ian Jenkins, OBE and senior curator of ancient Greece at the British Museum, who sadly passed away on 28 November 2020, we continue to differ with him that ‘without Elgin, there would be no marbles’…… as the ones Elgin left behind are beautifully displayed in the Parthenon Gallery of the Acropolis Museum. Here’s to that special day when the Parthenon Marbles may be reunited in Athens with direct views to the Parthenon, which still stands.

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