Thursday, December 4, 2014

Parthenon Marbles: Ilissos Goes to Petersburg

Obtrusively-labelled trophy item in BM (BBC)
The British Museum has loaned one of its ripped-off Parthenon Marbles statues to Russia.
A headless depiction of the river god [sic - personification not god] Ilissos will go on display in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum until mid-January. [...] The museum director, Neil McGregor, said: "The British Museum is a museum of the world, for the world and nothing demonstrates this more than the loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary." In a blog for the museum's website, he wrote that the British Museum had opened its doors in 1759 and the Hermitage just five years later - making them "almost twins... the first great museums of the European Enlightenment". The British Museum was today "the most generous lender in the world", he said, "making a reality of the Enlightenment ideal that the greatest things in the world should be seen and studied, shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible". "The trustees have always believed that such loans must continue between museums in spite of political disagreements between governments."
Tell that to the people of Ukraine and Crimea this winter. This can be interpreted as nothing but a huge snub directed at Greece by the British Museum. Of all the pieces that could have been chosen to represent the Enlightenment, there was no reason to choose precisely one of these pieces - and especially at this time. What's the matter, could not find anything from a Hellenistic town in Crimea that the Russians have not already got? It is interesting to note that this loan was not announced until the looted sculpture was actually in Russia. Go on Greece, make a bid to get it back from Putin, maybe he'll agree to give the UK a poke in the eye over sanctions (I bet the actual loan agreement has some interesting small print to cover such an eventuality).

By the way, Catherine the Great's keep-up-with-the-Enlightenment kunstkabinett in the Small Hermitage was a private collection in 1759. The museum only "opened its doors" by Nicholas I in 1852, a century later. McGregor is making up history here.

 BBC 'Elgin Marbles: British Museum loans statue to Russia' BBS 5 December 2014.

1 comment:

  1. This latest act of defiance is a challenge to all morality and sense of justice. The British Museum knows that it is wrong to loan an object which is not yours to a third person whilst refusing to return it to the owner. What are they going to tell the Russians about these Greek sculptures which Neil MacGregor said a few weeks ago they were not Greek at all? That they are British? This latest act of defiance should be a call for all those in favour of the return, as the British people have always demanded, to redouble their efforts.