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Despite a strong desire to return the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful home in Athens atop the Acropolis, the Greek government decided against taking legal action against the UK last year. Some probably though the battle for the marbles was lost, but now Greece is using another approach – they are offering ancient archaeological “jewels” in exchange for the Parthenon Marbles.
Greece Proposes a Generous Offer to the UK
In another attempt to find a peaceful solution, Greece has invited the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles, also known as Elgin Marbles, as a parabolic act in the battle against the anti-democratic forces that keep rising all over Europe, seeking the dissolution of the continent’s unity. The Greek government has the magnanimous offer to consistently loan some of Ancient Greece ’s archaeological wonders to British institutions in exchange of the precious Parthenon Marbles.
The Parthenon Marbles on display in the British Museum, London.
How the Controversy Began and the Parthenon Marbles Became Known as the “Elgin Marbles”
As Ancient Origin’s writer Mark Miller thoroughly analyzed in a previous article , when the British Empire’s power was at its peak and Greece was under Ottoman rule, many artifacts and artworks, including reliefs and statues from the Parthenon in Athens were taken to Britain. For years, Greece has been trying to get those valuable artifacts back.
- The Parthenon of Athens: An Epic Monument, Or a Mystery in Measurements?
- Controversy Reignites as British MPs Propose Finally Returning Ancient Parthenon Marbles to Greece
In the opinion of very few historians (mostly British), Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, took those marbles legally when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803. He claimed that he got permission from the Ottomans to take the artwork. However, few historians agree that such an act was legal during periods of slavery and occupation, so the question is: how moral and ethical would this be considered in our contemporary Western World that supposedly values freedom and democracy more than anything?
An idealized view of the Temporary Elgin Room at the Museum in 1819, with portraits of staff, a trustee and visitors.
Almost two hundred years after Elgin’s act, the Parthenon Marbles remain some of the most controversial artifacts in the British Museum, with more and more British people suggesting that the Parthenon Marbles should return to Greece . Similarly, opinion is divided regarding Lord Elgin. For some he was the savior of the endangered Parthenon sculptures, while others say he was a looter and pillager of Greek antiquities.
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece, from where the marble friezes were taken. (public domain )
Between 1930 and 1940, the Parthenon sculptures were cleaned with wire brush and acid in the British Museum, causing permanent damage of their ancient surface. In 1983, Melina Mercouri, Minister of Culture for Greece, requested the return of the sculptures, and the debate over their return has raged ever since. The controversy around the Parthenon marbles is just one among many concerning artifacts the British took, or some say stole, during the British Empire’s reign.
Detail from the Parthenon Marbles. (Chris Devers / CC BY NC ND 2.0 )
A Solution Said to Help Western Culture’s Democratic Values
Lydia Koniordou, the Greek Minister of Culture and Sport, thinks that a civilized and democratic solution on this long-lasting controversy would send a message about Europe’s devotion to democracy during a time that many European countries – including Greece and England – are witnessing the uncontrollable rise of far-right forces and nationalistic parties. As Ms. Koniordou told Independent :
“The reunification of the Parthenon Marbles will be a symbolic act that will highlight the fight against the forces that undermine the values and foundations of the European case against those seeking the dissolution of Europe. The Parthenon monument represents a symbol of Western civilization. It is the emblem of democracy, dialogue and freedom of thought.”
Greece has been restoring the Parthenon for many years now and has also constructed a new, impressive museum , specially designed to exhibit the sculptures, even though more than half of them are still held by several museums in Europe.
- The Mentor Shipwreck and the Disastrous Journey of the Parthenon Marbles to Britain
- The British Museum Distorts History and Denies its Racist Past
View of the replica west and south frieze of the Parthenon. ( Acropolis Museum )
Professor Louis Godart, the newly elected chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS), made a statement, as Independent reports , where he pointed out the imperative need of these precious artifacts to finally go back home:
“It’s unthinkable that a monument which has been torn apart 200 years ago, which represents the struggle of the world's first democracy for its own survival, is divided into two. We must consider that the Parthenon is a monument that represents our democratic Europe so it is vital that this monument be returned to its former glory.”
It is also worth noting that during Elgin’s years in Greece his staff removed the sculptures so violently and inelegantly that the heads of a centaur and a human in a dramatic fight scene are in Athens, while their bodies are in London. Preservation of art? Probably not the best words to describe this act.
Parthenon Marbles conference report: Academic interchange remains almost completely civil at the British Museum
1st January 2000 00:00 BST
The British Museum’s conference on the 1937-38 cleaning of the Parthenon Marbles was conducted with scholarly decorum until the last few minutes, when tempers finally flared. The Greek press attaché was ordered to shut up, author William St Clair was “disinvited” from the closing dinner and for a moment it seemed as if scuffles might break out among the warring academics. Fortunately, sanity quickly prevailed and the two-day conference will go down as another key event in the long saga of the disputed sculptures.
The colloquium raised issues which went considerably further than the marbles themselves. It cast a disturbing light on the earlier management of one of the world’s great museums. In 1937-38 staff at the British Museum (BM) had bowed to the wishes of a major donor, Lord Duveen, and had allowed the most important item in its collection to be subjected to damaging intervention. The wealthy art dealer was funding a new gallery to display the marbles, and he thought they should look whiter. The 2,500-year old sculptures were therefore “cleaned” with copper chisels and carborundum. The museum then instituted a cover-up, and details of the incident remained hushed up until 1998.
Last month’s colloquium followed the publication in June 1998 of the third edition of William St Clair’s Lord Elgin and the Marbles. His book reproduced formerly secret BM papers, including a 1938 internal report on the unauthorised cleaning of the sculptures which admitted that “the damage is obvious and cannot be exaggerated.” These belated revelations were political dynamite, particularly when set against Greek demands for restitution. On 17 June 1998 Culture Secretary Chris Smith announced that the BM would hold an academic conference to examine and discuss the cleaning.
On 30 November and 1 December last year, 300 scholars from across the world assembled in London to consider the evidence. Museum director Robert Anderson opened the proceedings by describing the 1930s cleaning as “one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the BM”. Admitting that “we are all capable of misjudgements,” he promised that the museum is now fully committed to openness.
William St Clair, a former Treasury official and now a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, kicked off the debate. Giving evidence he had just published in a lengthy article (with fifty-five appended source documents) in the latest issue of the International Journal of Cultural Property, he described the damage which had been wrought by unskilled BM labourers, using, “hammers, chisels, copper rods, scrapers, wire brushes. The workmen were also found to be using carborundum, an artificial abrasive, at that time next to diamond the hardest substance known,” he commented, dramatically producing a piece from his pocket. Mr St Clair spoke in measured tones, but with considerable passion, and as the colloquium proceeded the tensions between him and BM staff became increasingly apparent. Yet without his persistent digging, the scandal would almost certainly have continued to be covered up.
Assistant Keeper and Parthenon specialist Ian Jenkins responded by criticising his museum’s cleaning of the marbles in the 1930s and the subsequent cover-up, although he concluded that the damage was not nearly as serious as critics are claiming. The main part of his speech was devoted to a detailed analysis of the extent of the physical damage to the individual marbles.
Dr Jenkins concluded on a controversial note, accusing the Greek authorities of neglect. “The tragedy of my generation has been to witness the progressive deterioration of the sculptures that have been left until recently on buildings in Athens, while some are still exposed. The continued deterioration of the west frieze still on the building until 1993, and the spoiling of all the Acropolis sculptures exposed to acid rain until the recent removal of some, but not all, to the shelter of the Acropolis Museum, is the greatest of all tragedies. South metope 1 and north metope 32, two of the finest that ever there were, still rot on the Parthenon as I speak.”
Sandwiches and sculptures
The morning session was followed by an invitation to a sandwich buffet with the marbles. This came only three weeks after The Guardian had run a front-page story (with a mixture of fact and fiction) alleging that fundraising dinners had been held in fancy dress in the Duveen Gallery. Greek chargé d’affaires Constantinos Bitsios made an informal complaint and studiously avoided the sandwich trays.
During the lunch break participants were also invited to touch the sculptures, in order to make a tactile analysis of the impact of the cleaning. Greek critics used this as further ammunition to accuse the BM of mistreating the marbles, but Dr Jenkins responded that a protective wax coating meant that no damage could be caused by gentle touching. The lunchtime touch-opportunity had been “an exercise in privileged access,” he said.
Following the lively lunch break, the Greek experts spoke, with reports by four experts from the Archaeological Service and the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments (Dr Ismini Trianti, Professor Th. Skoulikidis, Dr Alexander Mantis and Evi Papakonstantinou). Their scholarly papers gave the preliminary results of an inspection of the marbles in the BM (28 October-3 November), and they concluded that the extent of the damage was even more serious than had originally been surmised. The Greeks confined their papers to the academic issues, studiously avoided the issue of restitution.
During the following afternoon Greek experts gave two further papers which discussed the remains of the “epidermis” or patina of the marbles (Amerimni Galanos/Yianna Doganis and Dr Calliope Kouzeli). Their presentations sparked off an important discussion on the nature of the surface. Relatively little agreement emerged among the assembled experts over the purpose of the patina and when it had been applied, or indeed if it was due to a chemical reaction or biological staining.
It was in the final half hour that the fireworks began. Press attaché Dr Nicos Papadakis stood up and complained that while his Greek colleagues had avoided making political points, some of the British speakers had not been as careful. He also spoke in anger about Auberon Waugh’s article in that morning’s Daily Telegraph, in which the “satirical” columnist had complained that prospective London mayor Ken Livingstone wanted to “rob” the BM of its proudest possession: “He will give the Elgin Marbles as a present to some short-legged, hairy-bottomed foreigners, who have nothing to do with the ancient Athenians but who happen to occupy the space, being descended from Turkish invaders over the centuries.” Nicholas Penny of the National Gallery, speaking from the platform, interjected that the whole conference deplored Mr Waugh’s “most repellent sentiment”, and the press attaché continued.
When Dr Papadakis had been speaking for a total of six minutes, Dr Jenkins complained that the press attaché had “hijacked” the meeting with an “unwarranted and unscheduled speech.” This intervention angered Mr St Clair, who protested that the colloquium had not been up to the standards of an academic conference, and it was yet another blow to the museum’s reputation.
By this time the audience was unclear as to whether there was a chairman—was it Dr Penny (who had presented the last paper and had remained on the platform) or Dr Jenkins (who was handing the microphone to questioners)?
A few minutes later Belgian conservator Dr R.H. Marijnissen was in full flow when Mr St Clair stood up again and interrupted, announcing that he had “just been asked not to attend the closing dinner.” The Belgian quickly came to his point, and Dr Jenkins’s boss, Keeper Dyfri Williams, then intervened to explain that “we were distressed that Dr Papadakis had stopped and we would like him to continue”. This intervention was just as well, since the snub could well have escalated into an international incident. The Greek press attaché politely declined the invitation. Dr Williams denied that he personally had “disinvited” Mr St Clair from the dinner, concluding with some much-needed conciliatory words: “We went into this conference with a great deal of risk. We have tried to be open. There has been some discussion which his strayed from the issue, but that is what always happens in academic conferences.”
The meeting ended without a discussion on the way forward: many experts believe that what is now needed is a detailed examination of the Parthenon marbles, stone by stone, conducted by archaeologists and conservators. This might best be done by an international team, with British, Greek and other specialists. Only then will it be possible to provide a definitive answer to Dr Jenkins’s question: was what was actually done to the marbles in the BM in the 1930s a scandal? Equally important, it might provide more evidence about the patina of the marbles, giving a better insight into the mysterious coatings of the ancient sculptures.
Following the colloquium, Greek chargé d’affaires Mr Bitsios immediately wrote to Dr Anderson, copying his letter to Culture Secretary Mr Smith. Although thanking the museum for organising the event, he complained that “the scientific nature of the exchanges was adulterated by extraneous emotive argumentation introduced by certain interested parties.” Mr Bitsios added: “The Greek side had understood that the colloquium would focus on the specific issue of cleaning the Parthenon Marbles and that all mention of restitution would be eschewed by both sides in the interests of objective analysis of the issues. I believe that we honoured this understanding. Notwithstanding the Greek side’s self-denying ordinance, we were very conscious of an alternative agenda among some of the participants, to wit, to raise willy-nilly, and then attempt to demolish, the Greek claim for restitution.” Dr Anderson immediately sent a reply to the Greek chargé, saying that although it had been a challenging two days, considerable progress was made in understanding the 1930s cleaning.
The legal status of the Marbles
Last month, the British government reiterated that it would not return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.
There is a widespread misconception that it would merely require a change of heart on the Prime Minister’s part for the Marbles to be sent back to Greece. This is very far from being the case. According to the British Museum’s legal department, the situation is as follows:
When agents of Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to Constantinople, began to remove sculptures and other relics from the Parthenon in 1801, they did so with the consent of the Ottoman rulers of Greece, who considered themselves for a time indebted to the British for the expulsion of French armies from their dominions in Egypt and Syria following Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile.
Lord Elgin shipped his collection of marbles back to England. In 1816, Parliament passed an Act in which it agreed to buy the marbles from him for the sum of £35,000 on condition that the whole collection should be kept together in the British Museum.
Having acquired them from Lord Elgin, the government presented the marbles to the Trustees of the British Museum who hold them to this day as part of the collections of the museum.
The collections of the British Museum are held on trust, subject to the powers and responsibilities imposed on the Trustees by Parliament. The present Trustees are governed by the British Museum Act 1963 (as amended) which imposes upon them a duty to keep the collections available for inspection by the public in the museum itself. Although in law the Trustees are the owners of the museum’s collections, they have very limited powers to dispose of objects within them. For example, they may only sell, exchange or give away an object if it is duplicated in the collections or is unfit to be retained within them (having regard to the interests of students). Where, as in the case of the Parthenon Sculptures, the Museum is absolutely satisfied it has legal title to an object, it would be unlawful for the Trustees to agree the restitution of that object to a country claiming cultural rights in it. Only Parliament, enacting primary legislation, could decide that an object within the museum’s collections should be returned to a country of origin.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Full, free—and almost completely civil'
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Looters, Forgers, Thieves, and Vandals– An Art Crime Exhibition in NYC
Art crimes are often portrayed as glamorous, without victims except for wealthy collectors. However, art crime is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with ties to crime syndicates and terrorist organizations, money laundering and extortion, violence and murder, and the narcotics and arms trades. The theft of fine art from private homes and museums often attracts the most attention. On the other end of the spectrum, the illicit trade in antiquities often go unpublicized. This trade harms humanity, destroying our collective history and memory. Crimes are committed when tomb raiders and illicit diggers loot artifacts from the ground and then sell these objects to middlemen and antiquities.
During war, millions of objects are vulnerable to theft and destruction. And since ancient times, art has been used as propaganda. Ancient rulers exhibited looted objects to demonstrate their might over enemies. But art was also obliterated for the same reasons—the destruction of art is a means to degrade an enemy or weaken opposition. Art has also been damaged to make political or social commentary. Although some art criminals remove objects from the market or destroy them, others create forgeries and sell these offending pieces at sky-high prices.
The exhibition, Art Crimes, explores the history of art crimes around the world. It is the first exhibition of its kind, exploring theft, looting, forgeries, and vandalism. Read the press release here: http://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2016/december/_art-crime-_-a-visual-documentation-of-stolen–vandalized—-for.html
If We Ask Nicely, Can We Have Our Marbles Back?
This weekend Athens is filled with dignitaries in town for the opening of the New Acropolis Museum, a state-of-the-art glass and steel structure at the foot of the Acropolis hill. Practically anyone in the hemisphere who ever rated a bodyguard has come to bask in the sleek, climate-controlled air of the new museum, built to replace the tiny "museum on a hill" at the top of the Acropolis, over 33 years and at a cost of 130,000,000 Euros. Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey was scheduled to stop by Athens' historic Grande Bretagne hotel to freshen up before tonight's official opening. I know this because I overheard some staff members grumbling that they were asked to remove any artworks that had images of the Greek War of Independence, in case the birth of the modern Greek state in 1822, or perhaps the memory of almost 500 years of Ottoman occupation, offended the PM on behalf of his imperialist ancestors.
In the end, Erdogan couldn't make it due to illness, thus sidestepping any diplomatic or interior decorating crises for the Grande Bretagne. But the incident is typical of this weekend's events. The Greeks have been tripping all over themselves trying to be, some would say, uncharacteristically, polite, lest anyone think them rude because the elegant new museum is also a cultural and artistic reproach to the British Museum. Actually, in the mood of this opening weekend, it's more a subtle invitation for the trustees of said museum to return what have hitherto been called the Elgin Marbles, the sections of the Parthenon frieze that Lord Elgin had hacked off the Parthenon temple and shipped back to England in the early 1800s, a time when avaricious art lovers took what they liked, slipped said artifacts into their storage crates while on the Grand Tour, and carried them off to the imperial powers from whence they came. ("But he had permission from the Ottoman overlords!" the British museum trustees might point out. Which was true at the time, but does that make it right? Lots of things are legalized by occupying powers, including the deportation and extermination of unwelcome ethnic groups. But to dwell on that thought would make some people feel bad on behalf of their genocidal ancestors, and not be in the spirit of this weekend.)
The top floor of the Museum, a glass cube with views of the Parthenon temple atop the Acropolis hill on one side, Pnyx Hill on the other, and the modern city of Athens on the remaining two sides, is devoted to masterpieces that once resided on the Parthenon, including the famed "Parthenon frieze", over half of which is now in the British Museum, since Lord Elgin, having lost his fortune and his wife, and acquired the sort of 19th century rich man's infection that led to the removal of his nose (no offense meant to any descendants of Lord Elgin, or, of course, British PM Gordon Brown), sold his finds to the Museum. The frieze is a visual narrative which tells the story of the Birth of Athena (and, in other sections, the battle between Athena and Poseidon for spiritual control of the city -- not to offend any followers of Poseidon who may be hurt by the memory of their loss). For the first time since Elgin's adventure, an attempt is being made to show it in its entirety, with casts of the British Museum segments interspersed with originals that Elgin allowed to remain on the Parthenon.
The archaeologists leading journalists on a press preview tour of the gallery last night pointed out that the copies in the reunited frieze were gifts from the British Museum trustees back in 1845, when the new Greek government first asked for the return of the marbles. The trustees refused, arguing that the marbles were safer in Britain (until the birth of the new state, the Turks had been using the Parthenon to store gunpowder, after all, and if Prime Minister Erdogan is reading this in between tending to urgent business, my apologies for being so crass as to mention it). After that argument went up in smoke, the trustees argued that the British Museum could preserve the marbles better than Greek officials (also true at the time, or at least until 1937 and 1938 when the British Museum tried to reverse the effects of pollution from burning coal by treating the statues with bleach, wire brushes, and chisels). As the last century drew to a close, the only argument for keeping the marbles (besides the always effective "finders, keepers losers, weepers") was that the Greeks had no suitable place to display them.
The New Acropolis Museum is the eloquent answer to that the marbles would be shown as part of the narrative their creators intended, in view of the temple they once graced. And the entire museum is site-specific all of the over 4,000 findings come from the Acropolis hill. In this way, the entire museum is a request for the marbles. But the issue is not raised on site, there is no editorializing in the museum plaques, no petitions guests are asked to sign, no snarky comments by the guides ("the original is. you guessed it! In the British Museum!"). New Acropolis Museum officials seem to have been following a policy of speaking softly and carrying a big museum, as Museum Director Dimitrios Pandermalis told Newseek, "We are presenting in a visual way, what was, to this point, a verbal discussion."
At least until last night, when the Minister of Culture, Antonis C. Samaras, in a speech to reporters said, "We cannot dedicate this magnificent new museum with full hearts. We cannot illuminate fully the artistic achievement created in fifth century Athens because almost half of the sculptures from the Parthenon were taken from here 207 years ago to reside in enforced exile 4,000 kilometers away."
At which point an American reporter behind me muttered, "Holy Shit." The Elginphant in the room had finally been mentioned.
Even so, the minister of culture made the point that this wasn't a personal or national issue, but an artistic and moral one, insisting that, "The abduction of these sculptures is not only an injustice to us Greeks but to everyone in the world, the English included, because they were made to be seen in sequence and in total, something that cannot happen as long as half of them are held hostage in the British Museum."
A strong point, and also a rebuttal to the argument that the return of the marbles would unleash a torrent of requests from once impoverished or occupied countries who want their treasures back the Parthenon marbles, to use the politically correct term, are a special case, a visual narrative from a particular site that now has the means to display the story where it was created.
Samaras quoted the former Met director, Philippe de Montebello, who, when he returned eight dubiously acquired works to Italy, including the Euphronios vase, in exchange for a continuous stream of treasures the Italian government would loan to the Met, said, "The word is changing and you have to play by the rules. It now appears that the piece came to us in a completely improper way. as the representative of an honorable institution, I have to say, no, this is not right."
At which point the reporter from Palm Beach Society, offering the American perspective, muttered to a colleague, "It would just be such good P.R. for the British if they gave them back!" But the best the British government has done so far is to offer to loan the marbles to the New Acropolis Museum, in exchange for the Greek government's acknowledging that the British Museum trustees own the works. (Apparently, in the post-imperialist age, words are the new hatchets.) It was an offer the Greeks could only refuse.
I realize this blog, with its judgmental tone and quaint belief in right and wrong, is not in the polite spirit of this weekend's events, and I'm a little concerned I might have to give my commemorative New Acropolis Museum bookmark back. But I can't go along with the "it's the spirit of the times, it's not personal," party line, because I saw just how personal the return of the marbles could be as I researched articles about the New Acropolis Museum last year. Their return would be a feather in the cap of the new minister of culture, Antonis Samaras and a huge coup for Bernard Tschumi, the museum's architect. (When I interviewed him in New York, he said that one of his challenges in designing the site was that "the building had to be good enough to convince the world, and especially the Brits, that the Elgin marbles should come back.")
But there is one man whom seeing the Parthenon Frieze together would thrill more than anyone else. When the museum's Director, Pandermalis, showed me around the museum-in-progress last summer, the eightysomething professor practically danced around the freestanding archaic statues that had been wall-mounted on the old site. "I've been an archaeologist for 68 years, and I've never seen the back of this woman's hair," he gushed. When I told him that Mr. Tschumi is confident that the marbles will be returned eventually, he replied, "So do I. But will I live to see it? Or will it be left to your generation?"
At the risk of being forward, the fulfillment of one scholar's lifelong dream seems to me to be as strong a reason to return the marbles as righting old wrongs and restoring ancient artworks to their entire, original state. So I urge the British Museum trustees to give the marbles back and let Mr. Pandermalis see his frieze reunited. It would be rude not to.
Have the UK and Greece lost their marbles
In its latest critique of the British Museum, the government in Athens has billed the entity’s emphatic refusal to hand over Greece’s greatest looted treasures, the so-called Elgin Marbles, as “utterly unacceptable.”
Yet in an angry about-face, Athens has also moved to break decades of diplomatic niceties, taking a personal jab at the British Museum’s director for lauding as “creative,” Britain’s continued hold of the marble masterpieces that once donned the Parthenon.
Greek Culture Minister Myrsini Zorba has called Hartwig Fischer a “cynic” and his argument for keeping the marbles in London, “indicative of a narrow managerial mindset.” She also accused the noted historian of having a perverse understanding of history, “harping on old, British colonial arguments” to justify his new, iron-first stance at the British Museum.
“Greece will never relinquish its ownership rights to the Parthenon marbles,” Zorba told DW in an exclusive interview.
Complex cultural row
At the heart of the cultural row, among the most complex in the world, lies “a strictly bilateral issue,” she said, “not one between museums or [intellectual] narratives.”
A German national, Fischer was appointed to the helm of one of Britain’s most revered museums after directing one of Germany’s great cultural entities, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) . He is currently leading a campaign to radically revamp some of the most neglected areas of the British Museum, ushering in what trustees call a new era of pragmatism.
That’s diplomatic short-hand for not being coy or neutral about the museum’s thorniest issue: a collection of Parthenon marbles removed by a British aristocrat in the early 19th century.
The imposing collection includes 56 blocks of friezes and 19 statues which Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin sold to the British Museum in 1816. They have since then been housed in the museum’s Duveen Gallery, affording them ”an honorable shelter,” keeping them ”safe from ignorance and degradation,” according to the British Museum Act.
While those terms were stitched together centuries ago, no experts today — not even trustees of the British Museum — deny Greece’s ability to look after its artistic treasures.
‘Wrong stance, wrong century’
Still, critics in Athens accuse Fischer of leading the museum into a more hard-line stance, completely disregarding landmark decisions taken by world bodies “downgrading cultural heritage from an invaluable universal value to a mere exchange sale,” as Zorba put it.
What’s more, the timing of Fischer’s remarks come at a sensitive moment for Greece.
Nationalist and patriotic passions have been flaring since the government in Athens agreed to a controversial name change deal with Macedonia.
Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the agreement which Greeks say relinquishes exclusive rights to the ancient name and its rich cultural history.
“Add in eight years of painful austerity that has left millions of Greeks bankrupt, without jobs and without a future, and it’s no wonder people are clinging on to their most precious possession and potent symbol of Greek self-hood,” said Alexis Mantheakis, chairman of the International Parthenon Sculptures Action Committee. He told DW the British Museum’s revised stance on the dispute “played on the other child’s toy syndrome — a stubbornly petulant refusal to return what is not one’s own.”
“Wrong stance, wrong century,” Mantheakis said. “It’s no wonder the culture minister went for the jugular, and lashed out at Fischer. The Greek psyche is bruised.”
The torrent of political and public outrage generated by Fischer’s remarks has rekindled Greece’s long-running bid to win back the Elgin Marbles.
Among the most promising compromises that have since then been considered include a long-term loan. Under that arrangement, the British Museum would return the ancient masterpieces for display at Greece’s New Acropolis Museum. In exchange, Athens would offer some of its most prized antiquities, or forfeit its ownership claims, adding a subtle notice at the display, denoting the British Museum as the collection’s rightful owner.
Legal action as a last resort?
But now that Fischer has pulled the plug on that plan, Greece may have no option than to resort to legal action. With national elections due this year, conservatives leading in opinion polls have vowed to go on the offensive if elected.
“The legal route remains a valid option,” said former culture minister Konstantinos Tasoulas. “But it’s the moral and political pressure that will ultimately yield a solution. Public opinion within the UK has shifted dramatically in favor of the marbles’ return,” he told DW. “It’s a national priority to rekindle the campaign on an international level.”
Until then, however, Fisher and the British Museum insist the Elgin Marbles will stay put in Britain, encouraging the world to go to London to enjoy them there, instead.
Our exchange with Hugh Eakin at the NY Review of Books
The New York Review of Books has published our exchange with Hugh Eakin about his review of Chasing Aphrodite.
For those who haven’t followed the back and forth: Eakin reviewed the book in June’s NYROB. We posted our response here. The NYROB has now published an abbreviated version of that response with a final comment from Eakin.
We took issue with Eakin’s review, which we found “begrudgingly complimentary in several places, but also curiously littered with internal contradictions and a derisive tone that went unsupported by any argument of substance.” Eakin’s contortions appeared to be colored by his competing coverage of the Getty scandal for The New York Times and his sympathy for former Getty curator Marion True, who he had profiled in the New Yorker.
In Eakin’s final comment, he writes: “Let me be clear: there is nothing grudging about my admiration for their extraordinary revelations about the Getty Museum. Contrary to what they suggest, neither I nor any other reporter could compete with them because their information was, as I wrote, all their own.”
He goes on to cite several facts that he calls “contradictory” to our account of the controversial statue of Aphrodite, which was looted in Sicily and never seriously studied during its 22 years at the Getty. Rather than contradict our account (several of the facts he cites were, after all, first reported by us), they illustrate the contradiction between Marion True’s public and private persona. For example, Eakin cites two cases in which True professed to be open to scientific investigation of the statue’s origin. But he omits True’s statement to the Getty’s own attorneys that the purpose of these activities were “to keep the Carabinieri happy that we’re doing something.” (cited on p. 202 of Chasing Aphrodite)
As we said in our response to another True empathizer, sympathy for True’s plight is understandable, but should not blind us to the troubling complexities of her actions.
Eakin concludes his comment by noting, “The leaking of information to journalists places a burden on them to countercheck the claims being made.” We agree wholeheartedly, and spent the better part of five years seeking confirmation of and context for the leaked information we obtained. They offer a complex and multifaceted account that has not been contradicted. We wish Eakin had taken similar care to paint the whole picture.
We welcome your thoughts on the issues raised in this exchange. Feel free to chip in with a comment via the link below.
So notes Peter Aspden in a long discussion of the New Acropolis Museum in the Financial Times:
Next spring, visitors will set foot inside Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi’s glass-and-concrete edifice, all sharp edges and skewed angles, and address for themselves one of the the most intractable cultural disputes of modern times. When they travel to the museum’s top floor, they will see marble panels from the famous frieze that used to encircle the Parthenon, the symbol of Athenian democracy that stands like a staid, elderly relative, looking wearily across at the upstart building from its incomparable vantage point on top of the Acropolis a few hundred metres away.
Only about half of the original panels will be on view, of course. The remainder famously, or infamously, line the walls of the Duveen gallery in London’s British Museum, to which they were transported in the early 19th century by the Scottish aristocrat Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin.
The Greeks have long wanted their Marbles back, but the building of the new Acropolis Museum finally gives them the physical authority to buttress an argument that has too often relied on shrill sentimentalism and unsubtle jingoism. The museum is a provocation, an enticement, a tease. Tschumi has done everything other than daub slogans on the exterior walls to say to the world at large: “The Parthenon Marbles belong here, next to the building from which they were taken.”
The glass rectangle on top of the building is designed in the same proportions and at the same angle to the Acropolis as the Parthenon itself. It is flooded with natural light, and supported by concrete columns that, again, echo the architectural features of the ancient monument. The frieze looks proudly outward, as it did for centuries on its parent building, rather than brooding inwardly as it does in Bloomsbury. This, be sure of it, is architecture as propaganda.
It’s no accident I think that the entrance and exit of the museum feature archaeological excavations. Setting aside questions of ownership and historical taking, which space seems more appropriate for the display of the objects? Which space would be more enjoyable or enlightening for the visitor? Will it only be a matter of time before the Greeks build the necessary consensus for the return of the sculptures?
Greece held a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the voluntary return of a fragment from the Parthenon taken by a German soldier in 1943. Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis noted “The request for the return of the Parthenon Marbles has exceeded the borders of our country. It has become the request and the vision of the global cultural community”.
Archaeological Museums in London
- Author : Source Wikipedia
- Publisher : Booksllc.Net
- Release Date : 2013-09
- Pages : 24
- ISBN 10 : 1230663002
Please note that the content of this book primarily consists of articles available from Wikipedia or other free sources online. Pages: 23. Chapters: British Museum, Guildhall Art Gallery, Gunnersbury Park, Museum of London, Museum of London Antiquities, Museum of London Group, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Excerpt: The British Museum is a museum in London dedicated to human history and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering some eight million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, on the site of the current museum building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of an expanding British colonial footprint and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington in 1887. Some objects in the collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are the objects of intense controversy and of calls for restitution to their countries of origin. Until 1997, when the British Library (previously centred on the Round Reading Room) moved to a new site, the British Museum was unique in that it housed both a national museum of antiquities and a national library in the same building. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions. Since 2002 the director of the museum has been Neil MacGregor. Sir Hans SloaneAlthough today principally a museum of cultural art objects and antiquities, the British Museum.
Giacobbe Giusti: Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
Giacobbe Giusti: Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
Rare Bronze Sculptures from Hellenistic Period on View at National Gallery of Art, Washington, December 13, 2015–March 20, 2016
Unknown Artist (Hellenistic Bronze)
Athlete “Ephesian Apoxyomenos”, AD 1- 90
bronze and copper
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Antikensammlung, Vienna
Washington, DC—An unprecedented exhibition of some 50 rare bronze sculptures and related works from the Hellenistic period will be on view at the National Gallery of Art from December 13, 2015, through March 20, 2016. Previously at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World showcases bronze sculptures that are remarkably lifelike, often enhanced by copper eyelashes and lips and colored glass or stone eyes. Of the many thousands of bronze statues created in the Hellenistic period, only a small fraction is preserved. This exhibition is the first to gather together so many of the finest surviving bronzes from museums in Europe, North Africa, and the United States.
“We are delighted to present visitors with this rare opportunity to see these dazzling works up close,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “We are grateful to the lenders—museums in Austria, Denmark, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, the United States, and the Vatican—as well as Bank of America for their generous support.”
During the Hellenistic period—generally from the late fourth century BC to the first century AD—the art and culture of Greece spread throughout the Mediterranean and lands once conquered by Alexander the Great. Through the medium of bronze, artists were able to capture the dynamic realism, expression, and detail that characterize the new artistic goals of the era.
“The works from the Power and Pathos exhibition represent a turning point in artistic innovation during one of the most culturally vibrant periods in world history,” said Rena De Sisto, global arts and culture executive, Bank of America. “We’re thrilled to be the National Tour Sponsor and to help bring this important collection to D.C. in hopes to inspire curiosity and wonder.”
Exhibition Organization and Support
The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, in collaboration with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana.
Bank of America is the national sponsor of this touring exhibition.
The exhibition is also made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor. The Marshall B. Coyne Foundation has provided additional support through the Fund for the International Exchange of Art. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Power and Pathos brings together the most significant examples of Hellenistic bronze sculpture to highlight their varying styles, techniques, contexts, functions, and histories. The conquests of Alexander the Great (ruled 336–323 BC) created one of the largest empires in history and ushered in the Hellenistic period, which ended with the rise of the Roman Empire. For some 300 years after Alexander’s death, the medium of bronze drove artistic experimentation and innovation. Bronze—surpassing marble with its tensile strength, reflective surface, and ability to hold the finest detail—was used for dynamic poses, dazzling displays of the nude body, and vivid expressions of age and character.
“Realistic portraiture as we know it today, with an emphasis on individuality and expression, originated in the Hellenistic period,” said exhibition curator Kenneth Lapatin. Jens M. Daehner, co-curator, added, “Along with images of gods, heroes, and athletes, sculptors introduced new subjects and portrayed people at all stages of life, from infancy to old age.” Both Daehner and Lapatin are associate curators in the department of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
A widespread ancient phenomenon, Hellenistic art is found not only throughout the Mediterranean, but also in regions far away, such as Thrace in the Balkans, ancient Colchis (in the Republic of Georgia), and the southern Arabian Peninsula. Through several thematic sections, the exhibition emphasizes the unique role of bronze both as a medium of prestige and artistic innovation and as a material exceptionally suited for reproduction. The exhibition is divided into sections as follows:
Introduction: The Rarity of Bronzes: Large-scale bronze statues have rarely survived from antiquity, as most were melted down so that their valuable metal could be reused. Rows of empty stone pedestals can still be seen at ancient sites. Lysippos of Sikyon (c. 390–305 BC), the favorite sculptor of Alexander the Great, created 1,500 works in bronze, according to Pliny the Elder. None survive their existence is known partly from later copies and statue bases inscribed with the artist’s name, such as the one on view at the beginning of the exhibition. Many bronzes known today have been preserved only because they were accidentally buried or lost at sea, then recovered centuries later by archaeologists, divers, and fishermen.
Alexander and His Successors: Lysippos is credited with creating the image of Alexander the Great that artists have perpetuated through the centuries: a man of vigor, fit and lithe, clean-shaven, with long, windswept hair. The statuette Alexander the Great on Horseback, in bronze with silver and copper inlays, may be a small-scale version of a lost monumental sculpture that Lysippos created to commemorate Alexander’s victory over the Persians in 334 BC. Portraits of Alexander provided the models that his successors would emulate, resulting in the distinctive genre of ruler portraiture that emerged in the Hellenistic period.
Rulers and Citizens/Likeness and Expression: Realistic features and depictions of emotional states are hallmarks of Hellenistic sculpture. Individualized portraits superseded the largely idealized types of earlier periods. Hellenistic portraits emphasize pathos—lived experience—appealing to viewers’ emotions by conveying an individual’s state of mind or experience of life through facial expression or gestures. Citizens and benefactors honored with statues were shown clothed, while rulers were portrayed nude or in armor, sometimes on horseback. Nudity, traditionally reserved for images of athletes, heroes, and gods, became an artistic attribute of Hellenistic rulers or military leaders.
Bodies Real and Ideal: Hellenistic sculptors continued to create idealized figures, but with a new interest in realistic detail and movement, as seen in the Boy Runner, a statue of a boy athlete shown only at the National Gallery of Art. Many artists took inspiration from Lysippos, often considered the most important artist of the Hellenistic period. He specialized in athletic figures in their prime, emphasizing their muscles and rendering their hair disheveled from sweat and exercise. Lysippos also introduced new, elongated proportions and smaller heads, making his figures appear taller and more graceful than those of the Classical period.
Apoxyomenos and the Art of Replication: The process of casting bronze statues in reusable molds encouraged the production of multiple copies of the same statue. The image of an athlete known as an Apoxyomenos (“scraper”) appears in two bronze versions: a full-length statue excavated at Ephesos in present-day Turkey (on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria) and a bronze head known since the 16th century (now in Fort Worth, Texas), which once formed part of a comparable statue. Athletes competed nude, their bodies coated in oil after exercising, they scraped themselves clean with a strigil, a curved implement that removed the oil and accumulated dust and grime.
Images of the Divine: The expressive capabilities of bronze and the dynamic styles of Hellenistic sculpture were adapted to representations of divine beings. Their images became less ideal and more realistic or “human.” The statuette Weary Herakles, for example, shows the hero fatigued rather than triumphant after completing the labors that earned him immortality. The love-god Eros, formerly shown as an elegant adolescent, is transformed into a pudgy baby, inspiring Roman images of the god Cupid and putti of the Italian Renaissance. In the Hellenistic era, deities became more accessible, now thought of as living beings with changing physical and emotional states.
Styles of the Past/Roman Collectors and Greek Art: A high regard for history characterizes the Hellenistic period. Artists created statues and statuettes in styles from both the recent and distant past. Statues of Apollo on view echo the stiff frontal figures of youths known as kouroi that were dedicated in Greek sanctuaries and cemeteries throughout the sixth century BC. In contrast, a bust of the Doryphoros (Spear Bearer) copies a work by Polykleitos, one of the most famous classical sculptors of the fifth century BC. Most of the sculptures in this section adorned the villas and gardens of prominent Romans who eagerly collected Greek works of art, including the famouse statuette known as the Dancing Faun (Pan), found in the atrium of the House of the Faun in Pompeii, another work shown only in Washington.
From the Hellenistic to the Augustan Era: The Augustan era saw a renewed interest in the idealized styles of Classical Greece. Augustus, the first Roman emperor (ruled 27 BC–AD 14), favored the Classical style for much of his official art to associate his reign with the golden age of fifth-century Athens under Pericles. The sculpture of a boy wearing a himation, a large rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist, and the nude statue of a youth known as the Idolino (“little idol”), exemplify this trend.
A film produced by the Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition and made possible by the HRH Foundation provides an overview of art of the Hellenistic period. Narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, the film includes new footage of the ancient sites of Delphi, Corinth, and Olympia, which once were crowded with bronze statues.
For the first time, the Gallery is offering a free audio tour that visitors can download to their mobile devices. Narrated by Earl A. Powell III, the tour includes commentary from exhibition curators Jens M. Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, and bronze specialist Carol C. Mattusch of George Mason University.
The exhibition curators are Jens M. Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, both associate curators in the department of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Susan M. Arensberg, head of the department of exhibition programs, is the coordinating curator for the National Gallery of Art.
Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the fully illustrated scholarly catalog is the first comprehensive volume on Hellenistic bronze statuary. It includes groundbreaking archaeological, art-historical, and scientific essays offering new approaches to understanding ancient production of these remarkable works of art. The 368-page hardcover catalog is currently available. To order, please visit http://shop.nga.gov/ call (800) 697-9350 or (202) 842-6002 fax (202) 789-3047 or e-mail [email protected]
The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden are at all times free to the public. They are located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, and are open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Gallery is closed on December 25 and January 1. With the exception of the atrium and library, the galleries in the East Building will remain closed until late fall 2016 for Master Facilities Plan and renovations. For information call (202) 737-4215 or visit the Gallery’s Web site at www.nga.gov. Follow the Gallery on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NationalGalleryofArt, Twitter at www.twitter.com/ngadc, and Instagram at http://instagram.com/ngadc.
Visitors will be asked to present all carried items for inspection upon entering. Checkrooms are free of charge and located at each entrance. Luggage and other oversized bags must be presented at the 4th Street entrances to the East or West Building to permit x-ray screening and must be deposited in the checkrooms at those entrances. For the safety of visitors and the works of art, nothing may be carried into the Gallery on a visitor’s back. Any bag or other items that cannot be carried reasonably and safely in some other manner must be left in the checkrooms. Items larger than 17 by 26 inches cannot be accepted by the Gallery or its checkrooms.