Henry Porter ('The Greeks gave us the Olympics. Let them have their marbles', Observer 20 May 2012) thinks the Parthenon Marbles should go back to Greece. On a recent visit to the Duveen gallery which houses these sawn-off bits of an Athens building he notes that:
The only allusion to the controversy of the continued presence in this country that I could find in the museum was a notice near the entrance to the Duveen Gallery. "Elgin's removal of the sculptures from the ruins of the building has always been a matter for discussion," it says with a dry little cough before briskly moving on. "But one thing is certain – his actions spared them further damage by vandalism, weathering and pollution."[...] it's hard to fathom a logic that suggests that the advantages of this order of pillage include saving the sculptures from vandalism. That would justify cutting a section of Botticelli's Birth of Venus from its frame to preserve it from any future vandals.But this "rescuing the past" excuse is so often used by artefact hunters and collectors everywhere, and regardless of the true facts, to justify what they do - however dubious that is from other points of view. The Parthenon marbles "represent the core of Greek civilisation, and they are the beating heart of modern Greek identity" says Porter:
And, as important, the sculptures really represent half the building that was constructed between 447BC and 432BC to mark the defeat of the Persians by Athens. If you ask the people who argue passionately for retention when they last went to see the marbles, it is striking how few have been in the past five years. It seems to be simply a matter of patriotic possession to them, rather than any great love of art. And talking of possession, they always tend to forget that the sculptures were prised from the Parthenon when the Turks ruled the Greeks, and they could not defend the emblems of their glorious past. [...] To weigh the issue, you need only ask yourself if Elgin's behaviour would be acceptable today. Of course it wouldn't, and nor would we expect to keep the result of such looting. So why do we hold on to these ill-gotten sculptures now? [...] we should begin to address a simple truth: the Parthenon marbles are not ours to keep.Photo: The British Museum's marbles as a setting for Children's play. Photograph: Richard Baker/Corbis.