Friday, November 7, 2014

British Museum: "the Parthenon Marbles aren’t Greek"

Richard Morrison, 'British Museum director: the Elgin Marbles aren’t Greek', The Times November 07, 2014
It’s the belief of MacGregor and his trustees (who, he points out, include “two Nobel prize-winners and distinguished people from all over the world”) that the Marbles will give “maximum public benefit” by staying in London, rather than going to a new museum in Athens. “From its beginning 250 years ago, the point of the BM was gathering together objects in one place to tell narratives about the world,” he says. “When the Parthenon Sculptures came to London it was the first time that they could be seen at eye-level. They stopped being architectural details in the Parthenon and became sculptures in their own right. They became part of a different story — of what the human body has meant in world culture. In Athens they would be part of an exclusively Athenian story.” Athenian? “Yes. It’s not even a Greek monument. Many other Greek cities and islands protested bitterly about the money taken from them to build this in Athens.” Surely one of the strongest Greek arguments is that all the Parthenon Sculptures should be reunited — and the obvious place for that to happen is as close to the Parthenon as possible. “Well, about 30 per cent of the Sculptures are in Athens and 30 per cent are here,” MacGregor counters. “You don’t have to be very mathematical to see that quite a lot of them no longer exist. So there’s no possibility of recovering an artistic entity and even less of putting them back in the ruined building from which they came. Indeed, the Greek authorities have continued Lord Elgin’s work of removing sculptures for exactly the same reason: to protect them and to study them.”
The Parthenon is not a Greek monument because it was "built in Athens"? So it is displayed in the British (London) Museum's Department of Greek, Roman and Athenian antiquities? That's next to the Museum's 'Department of Halicarnassan and Carian Antiquities' I suppose. What nonsense is this?

I guess his other one is a Two Wrongs Argument, the Ghent Altarpiece "should not be displayed ever again as a whole" because one of the panels is missing. Dachau can now be dismantled because some noxious jerk walked off with the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. It is a really dodgy argument that no work of art or monument should be protected from dismemberment unless we have all the pieces. The Parthenon Marbles dispute is descending even further into the depths, being already the lowpoint of British Museology and the heritage debate.

Vignette: "It's broken so no need to return it".


  1. Neil MacGregor does not name his Nobel Prize winners nor does he tell us who appoints the trustees. If I recall correctly, they are all appointed by the British Government and Queen. In any case, the presence of these trustees will not inhibit the director of the British Museum from making his usual statements which I presume do not represent the opinions of the trustees.

  2. Repatriation of cultural property allows cultural heritage and growth to continue, prevents the loss of traditions, and renews and strengthens relationships between people and governments.
    Are not all items found at an archaeological site pertinent to the survival of native cultural survival and continuance? While the purpose of learning and sharing world history and culture may be deemed worthy, it is not necessary to keep these items from those who benefit most from the associated cultural heritage. Current technologies allow for the accurate scanning of artifacts as well as mapping of archaeological sites. Databases like the DAAHL project allow for people all over the globe to access archaeological images and site specifics for informational and research purposes without removal or storing of items by others. Furthermore, Internationalism leads to suspicion and resentment by encouraging the view that cultural property belongs to all humankind but is only safe for display in westernized or wealthier cities and nations. Cultural property holds importance as a foundation for community. Governments and museums benefit from repatriation by publically showing respect for culture and ownership. Through repatriation, ties between originating communities and governments are mended after years of anger, resentment and fear while encouraging the survival and growth of cultural heritage.