Reunification of the Sculptures of the Parthenon: A Gift to the International Youth

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Greek PM told he must recognise British Museum ownership of Parthenon marbles to secure sculptures on loan

Following is the full English language text of an article by Yannis Andritsopoulos, London Correspondent for Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper. See below for contact details.

Follow this link for the original Greek text.

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“The Greek government must acknowledge the British Museum’s ownership of the Parthenon sculptures before its Trustees consider whether or not to lend the marbles to Greece, a museum representative told Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper.

“A precondition for any loan would be an acceptance of ownership of those objects by the Trustees / the Museum”, a British Museum spokesperson told Ta Nea, commenting on Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s recent statement that he will ask Boris Johnson to approve a loan of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens in a temporary swap with other ancient artefacts.

“The Trustees will consider any loan request for any part of the collection. As yet there has been no direct contact from the Greek authorities regarding the proposal made over the weekend”, a British Museum’s spokeswoman said, stressing that “as an arms-length body, this would be a matter for the Trustees not the UK Government.”

“The British Museum is committed to sharing its collection as widely as possible, as one of the leading lenders of objects in the world we lent over 5,000 objects to venues in the UK and internationally last year,” she added.

“The Parthenon Sculptures are legal property of the British Museum. They are free to view, have been on display for over two hundred years, and millions from across the world have seen them”, a Downing Street spokesperson told Ta Nea.

“Decisions relating to their care are taken by the Trustees of the British Museum – free from political interference,” the UK government’s spokesperson said.

Mitsotakis told the Observer on Sunday that he would ask the new British prime minister to lend the marbles to Greece as part of its bicentennial celebrations in 2021.

“Given the significance of 2021, I will propose to Boris: ‘As a first move, loan me the sculptures for a certain period of time and I will send you very important artifacts that have never left Greece to be exhibited in the British Museum’,” said the Greek premier.

On 7 June 1816, British Parliament voted to purchase from Lord Elgin his collection of sculpted marbles from the Parthenon and elsewhere on the Acropolis of Athens. They were then passed to the British Museum, where they are now on display. The British Museum is an arms-length body not under the control of the UK government.

“The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS) and the twenty National Committees worldwide congratulate and firmly support Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in his efforts to reunite the Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum in Athens for the festive bicentennial commemoration of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 2021”,

Dr Christiane Tytgat, President of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS) told Ta Nea.

“The loan proposition Prime Minister Mitsotakis successfully agreed with French President Macron last week – the South metope X of the Parthenon on display in the Louvre in return for a collection of bronze artefacts from Greece – was a first step on the way to making a breakthrough in the long ongoing claim by the Hellenic Government for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens,” she added.

“We warmly welcome the announcement Prime Minister Mitsotakis made in an interview with The Observer stating that he is going to propose to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, [quote] “as a first move, to loan me the sculptures for a certain period of time and I will send you very important artefacts that have never left Greece to be exhibited in the British Museum.”

“We sincerely hope that Prime Minister Johnson, as a philhellene and Classically educated person, will give this proposition the consideration it demands, and we wish Prime Minister Mitsotakis every possible success in his campaign to reunite the Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum in 2021,” Dr Tytgat said.

“The difference between Macron’s thoughtful, sensible and sensitive attitude to ill-gotten colonial gains stands as an admonishment to the BM’s present snooty inflexibility, which won’t deign to enter a discussion on the matter but maintains radio silence through diplomatic channels and tells outdated stories through public ones, but we fervently hope for better things from the dear British Museum very soon, as times they are a-Changing,”

Dame Janet Suzman, Chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, told Ta Nea.

“A twinge of discomfort might be starting to manifest itself since the BM has, we are told, printed up in the Duveen Galleries for the general public to digest, A pamphlet telling its ageing trope about universality. We would like them to show a further inclination to fair debate by publishing alongside their screed the now current view that it is high time the Parthenon marbles were graciously returned to be exhibited next to their other halves in the Parthenon Gallery of the superlative Acropolis Museum,” Dame Janet said.

She added that “it would be nice if the Museum manifested a more Macronesque largesse of spirit in regard to what belongs to the Sacred Rock and the people of Greece.”

“A mutually agreed exchange of loans is certainly far preferable to the BM’s shameless soft diplomacy ‘loan’ of ‘Ilissos’ to President Putin some five years back. That I thought was a calculated insult to the Greek government. President Macron’s statements on the unconditional return/reunification of 26 African art objects from France paved the way for the recent talks between Greece and France,” Professor Paul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, University of Cambridge, Vice-Chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, told Ta Nea.

“But of course we of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles and the International Association for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures hope for and expect much more in due course – namely, the total reunification in the Acropolis Museum of ALL pieces originally from the Parthenon that are currently held in museums outside Greece (not only in the BM)! But of course we campaign especially on behalf of the Marbles currently held (prisoner) in the BM,” Professor Cartledge said.

“For that eventual reunification the Greek Govt of the day will certainly reciprocate most handsomely with spectacular loans – such as those that are scheduled or will be scheduled to go to the Louvre no doubt will be,” he added.

Published in Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper (www.tanea.gr)
Publication date: 03 September 2019

English version: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/greek-pm-told-he-must-recognise-british-museum-secure-andritsopoulos/

Yannis Andritsopoulos
London Correspondent for Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper
Tel.: +44 (0) 7521 633 467
Email: iandritsopoulos@gmail.com
Connect with Yannis: Twitter, LinkedIn

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Statement from the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

”The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon
Sculptures (IARPS) and the twenty National Committees worldwide congratulate and firmly support Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in his efforts to reunite the Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum in Athens for the festive bicentennial commemoration of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 2021.

The loan proposition Prime Minister Mitsotakis successfully agreed with French President Macron last week – the South metope X of the Parthenon on display in the Louvre in return for a collection of bronze artefacts from Greece – was a first step on the way to making a breakthrough in the long ongoing claim by the Hellenic Government for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens.

We warmly welcome the announcement Prime Minister Mitsotakis made in an interview with The Observer stating that he is going to propose to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, [quote] “as a first move, to loan me the sculptures for a certain period of time and I will send you very important artefacts that have never left Greece to be exhibited in the British Museum.”

We sincerely hope that Prime Minister Johnson, as a philhellene and Classically educated person, will give this proposition the consideration it demands, and we wish Prime Minister Mitsotakis every possible success in his campaign to reunite the Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum in 2021.

Dr Christiane Tytgat
President IARPS

The Executive Board of IARPS

The 20 National Committees worldwide”

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Greece Offers to Loan Ancient Treasures to Britain in Bid for Parthenon Marbles

Following is the article titled, Greece Offers to Loan Ancient Treasures to Britain in Bid for Parthenon Marbles, written by Tasos Kokkinidis  and published by ‘Greek Reporter’ on 1 September”

“Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he is willing to allow ancient treasures to be exhibited in London in exchange for the Parthenon Marbles being returned to Athens for 2021.

In an exclusive interview with Britain’s Observer, published on Sunday, Mitsotakis said: “Our wish and ambition is to create the necessary conditions for Greek cultural heritage to travel the world and in so doing convey the great and essential contribution of our country to western civilization.”

“In this context, given the significance of 2021, I will propose to Boris [Johnson]: ‘As a first move, loan me the sculptures for a certain period of time and I will send you very important artefacts that have never left Greece to be exhibited in the British Museum’.”

The run-up to Greece’s bicentennial independence celebrations in 2021 offers an excellent opportunity for Athens to “step up its campaign to win back from the British Museum the Parthenon sculptures,” the newspaper says.

The Parthenon sculptures exhibited at the British Museum. Source: Wikipedia

Mitsotakis added that Greece’s “demand for the return of the sculptures remains in place.” He warned Britain that is fighting a losing battle on the issue. “I don’t think [Britain] should be fighting a losing battle. Eventually this is going to be a losing battle. At the end of the day there is going to be mounting pressure on this issue.”

The Observer notes that last week France responded with unexpected enthusiasm to Mitsotakis’ request to return part of the Parthenon frieze to Greece. The classical carving is regarded by the Louvre as the most precious in its possession.

In a move that will almost certainly embarrass Britain, the paper says, the French promised to look into returning the priceless objects in return for the loan of unseen Greek bronzes to the Louvre.

“As part of the concept of [promoting] our common European culture, there needs to be more fluidity and more movement,” Mitsotakis said. “If it happens, and I think it will happen, its going to be a first small crack.”

Although the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is against the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece, he is also a great philhellene, as his classical studies and constant references to ancient Greek figures show.

In an academic event which took place at Central Hall in Westminster on November 19, 2015, comparing the contributions of Greece and Rome to human civilization, Johnson argued that the Greeks had been first in everything.

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Emanuel Comino on Ahdaf Soueif’s Resignation

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In an open letter to the Trustees of the British Museum, Emanuel Comino AM, Chairman of the International Organising Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles[1] (IOC-A-RPM), said, “We strongly recommend that you urge the British Prime Minister to open negotiations with the Greek Government directed towards solving this cultural property dispute once and for all.”

“We also urge you call upon the UK Prime Minister to support changes to British Museum Act 1963 that will make this possible.”

His comments were prompted by the resignation of British Museum Trustee Ahdaf Soueif.

Writing on her blog Ms Soueif said,

” A few days ago I resigned from its Board of Trustees. My resignation was not in protest at a single issue; it was a cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and the less privileged.”

She is quoted elsewhere[2] as saying:

“The British Museum, born and bred in empire and colonial practice, is coming under scrutiny. And yet it hardly speaks.”

“It is in a unique position to lead a conversation about the relationship of South to North, about common ground and human legacies and the bonds of history.

“Its task should be to help us all imagine a better world, and – along the way – to demonstrate the usefulness of museums. This would go some way towards making the case for keeping its collection in London.”

In congratulating Ms Soueif  Emanuel Comino said, “We as members of the oldest Committee in the world campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, applaud Ms Soueif’s courage and principle.”

“Such intransigence also castes the Museum in a most negative light internationally and must be a great source of embarrassment to the government and the people of the British Isles,” he added

“Surveys of your own MPs have clearly shown more than 60% support for the return of the Marbles.”

“A Museum that was adapting to the 21st century would recognise that many opportunities exist for extensive collections of other Hellenistic objects, not well represented in the Museum’s collection, to be made available should a resolution to this dispute be achieved.  New technologies also enable highly realistic 3D laser simulations to be used in place of antiquities that have been returned to their countries of origin.”

“Restitution will allow the Marbles to be relocated in the specially conceived Acropolis Museum.  In this new setting, very close to their origins, the rich contribution of the Marbles to world civilization will have a gravity that cannot be achieved in other artificial settings.”

“Restitution will also allow the British Museum to shed the mantle of insensitivity and the emerging view that it is an institution somewhat out of step with present global developments in Museology. ”

“The call for restitution is becoming stronger and stronger internationally, it will never abate.  As a gesture of goodwill, that will be remembered through the ages, we urge you to call for the restitution of the Marbles now.”

For a full report on Ahdaf Soueif’s resignation go to her blog.

Russell Darnley OAM

Vice Chair and International Liaison Officer IOC-A-RPM

For further direct comment from EJ Comino

+6 1 2  9588 4144 

[1] Emanuel is also Vice Chair of the International Association for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures but is making this statement as Chair of the IOC-A-RPM

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/16/british-museum-trustee-quits-bp-sponsorship-immovability-looted/

 

 

 

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Parthenon Marbles campaigners heartened

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After quitting as British Museum trustee, writer calls for honest discussion about return of artefacts

Βy Yannis Andritsopoulos, London Correspondent for Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper (iandritsopoulos@gmail.com)

The Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif has resigned from the British Museum’s Board of Trustees in protest at the institution’s “immovability” on returning looted artefacts. She also cited the museum’s sponsorship deal with oil company BP and its treatment of workers as reasons for her resignation.

In a damning critique of the British Museum, published in the London Review of Books, Soueif condemned the institution’s lack of public engagement with the debate around the restitution of cultural artefacts.

Asked whether she thinks that the British Museum should be engaged in talks with Greece about returning the Parthenon Sculptures, Soueif told Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper: “I believe it would be in everyone’s interests for the Museum to engage in open, honest and transparent discussions with everyone who feels they have a claim on objects held by the Museum.”

Asked if she thinks that the Parthenon Sculptures should be returned to Greece, Soueif said she “cannot really comment more specifically,” but added that “these claims can only be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

“In November 2018, a French report commissioned by President Macron recommended the full restitution of looted African artworks. It burst open the debate over the repatriation of cultural artefacts. Museums, state officials, journalists and public intellectuals in various countries have stepped up to the discussion,” said the Booker Prize-nominated author and cultural commentator.

“The British Museum, born and bred in empire and colonial practice, is coming under scrutiny. And yet it hardly speaks. It is in a unique position to lead a conversation about the relationship of South to North, about common ground and human legacies and the bonds of history.

“Its task should be to help us all imagine a better world, and – along the way – to demonstrate the usefulness of museums. This would go some way towards making the case for keeping its collection in London. But its credibility would depend on the museum taking a clear position as an ally of coming generations.”

Soueif became a Trustee in 2012; her term would have ended in 2020.

“The Trustees regret Ahdaf Soueif’s decision to step down from the Board on which she has been a much valued voice since 2012. Ahdaf has made a significant contribution to the Board in all its endeavours and discussions, and has played a crucial role in deepening the British Museum’s engagement with Egypt and the wider Middle East, and with audiences and partners throughout the world,” said Sir Richard Lambert, Chair of the British Museum Trustees.

“Collaboration is about progressing as a whole and it is bigger than any one institution or any one individual, it’s a culture. The British Museum speaks of collaboration but it isn’t listening to Greece’s call for reunification despite the fact that the superlative Acropolis Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary less than a month ago, on 20 June,” Dame Janet Suzman, Chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, told Ta Nea.

“We salute Ahdaf Soueif for resigning because of the British Museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern. In her letter she writes: ‘the British Museum is not a good thing in and of itself. It is good only to the extent that its influence in the world is for the good.’ As a campaigning committee we strongly believe that if the British Museum wishes to set its stall out as a great and good universal influencer for the world – it must begin by putting old wrongs, right and the continued division of the Parthenon Marbles is a case in point,” Dame Janet said.

She added that “the revolt against colonial attitudes will not go away. It is high time the British Museum showed the heart within the beast and opened proper dialogue on the best place to display the sculptures from the Parthenon for all to understand that we are living in the 21st century and we can do what’s right by these sculptures for future generations to also take away the lesson that there is such a thing as a fairer world.”

This news report was published in Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper (www.tanea.gr) on 18 July 2019. 

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The Acropolis Museum: A high tech and symbolic space for the treasures of the Acropolis

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The New Acropolis Museum was officially inaugurated on June 20, 2009, and celebrates this year 10 tremendous years of successful activity. It has grown to be one of the best museums in the world and has received over 14,5 million visitors. Between 13 and 20 of June, the Museum has organized a series of festivities to commemorate its anniversary, with as a major event – on June 20 – the opening of the archaeological excavation underneath the museum.

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The architectural remains of Late Antiquity (4th-7th century AD) excavated during the construction of the museum give an unrivalled insight into the everyday life of an ancient neighbourhood at the foot of the Acropolis. From June 21 on, this new archaeological site will be open to the public.

The history of the New Acropolis Museum goes back to the 1970s. The museum built on the Acropolis itself, whose initially construction dates of the 19th century, was by then outdated and could no longer cope adequately with a large number of visitors. Moreover, important restoration and conservation work carried out on the monuments of the Acropolis from 1975 on rendered the exhibition space in the old museum too small to accommodate the sculptures that were being taken down from the various Acropolis buildings to preserve and conserve them from the urban pollution.

In 1976, less than two years after the restoration of democracy in Greece, President Constantinos Karamanlis conceived plans for the construction of a new Acropolis Museum and selected the site upon which the Museum was finally built, located in the historic neighbourhood of Makryianni, a natural extension of the south slope of the Acropolis hill. Between 1976 and 2000, no fewer than four architectural competitions were conducted, before the award finally went to the project by design architects Bernard Tschumi, Michael Photiadis and their associates.

The New Acropolis Museum is a three-story building facing the Acropolis, a transparent construction of structural concrete, stainless steel and marble, with liberal use of glass for the facades and part of the floor,. It achieves an interplay between the museum, where the antiquities of all periods the Acropolis are on display, floating over the in-site excavation, and panoramic views on the Acropolis and the city.

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The concept of the building is ingenious, divided over four levels: the ground floor of the Museum is suspended on pylons over the archaeological excavation; a gentle slope ending up in a monumental staircase connects the ground floor with the first floor; the top floor or Parthenon Gallery is arranged around an indoor court and rotates slightly so that its orientation corresponds exactly to the orientation of the nearby Parthenon temple. The concept of the Acropolis Museum can thus be seen as an evocation of the topography of the Acropolis in ancient times: a Sacred Way leads visitors from the city up the slope of the Acropolis hill, then up the steps towards and through the Propylaea to the Parthenon.

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The display of the artefacts in the Museum strengthens this image. The ruins of a part of the ancient city of Athens are situated on the lowest level. The finds excavated on the slopes of the Acropolis in secondary temples, shrines, and caves, are on display on the ground floor, along the gently sloping path. The numerous sculptures and architectural fragments – most of them unique treasures of art – found on the Acropolis, including parts of the Archaic temples, the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea, are presented on the first floor and can be viewed from all sides. The ambient natural light in the exhibition rooms, changing throughout the day, particularly suits the sculptures on display. The top floor is dedicated to the surviving Parthenon sculptures in Athens, completed with plaster casts of the sculptures actually on display in the British Museum in London. This juxtaposition of original parts with plaster copies underlines the call for the return of the originals in the British Museum. The display in Athens (unlike that in the BM’s Duveen Gallery) is exquisite, the sculptures can be seen exactly as they were placed on the Parthenon, but in a lowered position for the convenience of the visitor. The glass enclosure provides ideal light and enables direct view on the context of the original environment of the Parthenon Sculptures.

The New Acropolis Museum is a thematic archaeological museum, geographically limited to the finds of the Acropolis, the slopes of the hill and its monuments, chronologically limited to artefacts dating from the earliest period to Late Antiquity. It is a “living” museum, constantly in motion and constantly replenishing its exhibition with new finds, as a result of the ongoing archaeological research and the restoration works conducted in the area by members of the Greek Archaeological Service.

In just 10 years, the Acropolis Museum has grown into a leading world museum, with a highly scientific programme, a very competent restoration, and conservation department, strong cultural-museological management, and a suite of dynamic projects for the future. Therefore, one can only regret the more deeply that not all surviving parts of the Parthenon Sculptures – a number of them are dispersed in other museums and collections besides the British Museum – are today reunited in this beautiful museum.

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The most important collection of Parthenon Sculptures abroad is actually on – poor – display in the British Museum in London. They were “taken” by the British diplomat Lord Elgin with a view to decorating his mansion in Scotland, at the beginning of the 19th century, at a time when Greece was under Ottoman rule. In the process, several were destroyed. Financial problems too meant that he had to sell the Sculptures, which finally were purchased from Lord Elgin by Act of the British Parliament and entrusted to the care of the Trustees of the British Museum. The young free Hellenic State began negotiations for the return of the Sculptures as early as 1842. A crucial turning point came in 1984 when Melina Mercouri, then Minister of Culture, made a formal request to the British Museum for the return of the Sculptures to Greece and simultaneous a request to UNESCO, which was immediately entered on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Return of Cultural Goods to the Countries of Origin. The claim from Greek governmental side for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures is regularly repeated, without reference to legality, but the stance of the British Museum Director and Trustees – a harsh ‘no’, without even a willingness to enter into formal discussions – remains unchanged until today.

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The reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum in Athens is not only a claim made by Greece. It is supported by International Cultural Organizations and by individuals worldwide. The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS), founded in 2005 and consisting of 20 national committees, spread over 18 countries, supports the claim for reunification, in close collaboration with the Greek authorities, who do not wish to engage in litigation at this moment, but prefer a policy of cultural diplomacy. A policy line that the IARPS respects. New approaches are therefore necessary to reach a breakthrough in the dispute. As the Parthenon Sculptures were made for and constitute an intrinsic part of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis – an emblematic building, symbol of Western Democracy and recognized as a World Cultural Heritage, it is above all, a moral obligation to return and to reunify all the surviving Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum, where they are in direct visual contact with the Parthenon temple. Only in this way they can continue satisfactorily to fulfill their mission: testimony to the great craftsmanship of the ancient sculptors in the 5th century BC and a reminder of the origins of Democracy.

Dr. Christiane Tytgat
Historian – Archaeologist
President International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures
President of the Belgian Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

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