Battle for the Parthenon Marbles

Irina Korobina, President of the Russian Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (RCRPS), has sent us the Committee’s excellent video. We are most impressed by the Russian Committee’s work.

In Russian, but subtitled in English throughout, the work opens with quotations from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage


Following is the English language script, with stills from the work.

Lord Elgin’s act caused outrage and condemnation from the very beginning. Lord Byron, a great countryman of Lord Elgin, frankly, called Elgin’s act theft and barbarism, in his poem the Pilgrimage of Childe Harold. It is often suggested that Elgin’s goal was to save and preserve the Parthenon sculptures. However, in one of the archives there is a letter in which Lord Elgin boastfully writes: “I have taken out of Greece as many antique values as Napoleon never dreamed of”

Click this image for the video

I don’t think we care about his motivations today, or whether he was a Saviour or a Robber. It is important for us that the Parthenon, which is for all humankind a symbol of harmony, a symbol of the architectural, artistic and living environment that all humankind throughout history recognizes as the ideal that gave rise to classical art, this symbol has been desecrated and violated. Its most valuable fragments, without which it is impossible to preserve the harmony of integrity, were broken out and taken to another country, where they are still located. Half of the Parthenon’s marble sculptures are in the British Museum, in London, and smaller fragments have spread all over the world. And all progressive humanity declares: they must be returned to their native place! Fragments of the Parthenon must be returned to Athens!

I don’t think we care about his motivations today, or whether he was a Saviour or a Robber. It is important for us that the Parthenon, which is for all humankind a symbol of harmony, a symbol of the architectural, artistic and living environment that all humankind throughout history recognizes as the ideal that gave rise to classical art, this symbol has been desecrated and violated. Its most valuable fragments, without which it is impossible to preserve the harmony of integrity, were broken out and taken to another country, where they are still located. Half of the Parthenon’s marble sculptures are in the British Museum, in London, and smaller fragments have spread all over the world. And all progressive humanity declares: they must be returned to their native place! Fragments of the Parthenon must be returned to Athens!

The debate about whether Lord Elgin’s act was a Saviour’s mission or Barbarism began in British society during his last expedition to Greece, and this debate continues till now.

Back in the 80-ies of the last century, the famous Greek singer and Minister of Culture Melina Mercuri officially announced the policy of “insistent return” of marble sculptures to the Parthenon.


EDITORIAL NOTE

Following Melina Mercuri’s initiative, the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles was formed, in 1983.  This followed the formation of the International Organising Committee Australia for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. Later the IARPS (International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures) was created.


Today it [IARPS] includes 21 countries, including a very active British Committee. Their activity is very wide such as the appeals were made to the Queen of England, statements and petitions with demands to return to the Parthenon its treasures. In particular, there is a Russian Committee, which I agreed to become President of because for us, who were students of the Moscow Architectural Institute, the Parthenon and the culture of Ancient Greece are the Cradle of world Culture, including the Russian architectural culture.

Russian Classicism and Neoclassicism, the highest examples of Russian architecture of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, would not have been possible without the Parthenon.

International committees of IARPS do everything for the return of sculptures – they conduct educational work, organize lectures, exhibitions, but most importantly, they express the position of the cultural community of their countries. It is clear that today the return of the Parthenon’s sculptures may not be the main concern of Russians who are going through the economical and other crisis. But this is only at first sight. In the culture of different countries, in architecture and art, sometimes incredible phenomena occur.  Something that becomes important for all humankind. And it is naive to think that these masterpieces belong only to one country. They belong to the world – all of humanity is interested in ensuring that these Points of Power that feed everyone are preserved intact. And it is immoral, even criminal, to take them apart… to destroy them, to break out pieces of them, to take them somewhere, to build new temples for them in other countries… this is a manifestation of barbarism and lack of elementary culture, which are often clothed with beautiful words about salvation, preservation, etc.

The counterargument on the part of the British, who for many years have categorically refused all Greek requests, is precisely that they are preservers of world heritage. They have a large scientific and custodial culture, they have a mission of Saviours. But there was an important event – the Acropolis Museum was opened, which was designed by Bernard Chumi and was the result of 4 international architectural competitions. The world recognition of this Museum-it is ranked 8th in the top ten museums in the world, which shows that not only Britain has great specialists and scientists, not only Britain can preserve the treasures of world heritage.

The architectural solution of the Acropolis Museum is unique. The space itself develops vertically and symbolizes the ascent of the Acropolis mountain, which is crowned by the Parthenon. And the exposition is located in such a way that the highest level represents the friezes and frontons of the Parthenon. Those parts of them that are in the British Museum have been replaced with plaster copies.

In the 21st century, the storage of sculptural treasures has acquired a Museum format, it is important that this is the Acropolis. But the removal of fragments of the Parthenon to other museums is unacceptable – the sculptures are taken out of context and deprived of their natural environment. There is an opinion that I share. It was expressed by scientists engaged in antiquity – the finding of fragments of the Parthenon in the British Museum humiliates them. They should be illuminated by the Acropolis. And the Acropolis Museum is the optimal place for them – it belongs to the Acropolis, forming a single whole with it. And there are all the conditions for perfect conservation. All conditions have been created at the highest level to ensure the safety of the priceless sculpture, which British colleagues and professional Museum workers around the world are happy about. If the British Museum delays the return of these great treasures, it will gain a reputation as a provincial, colonial, and regressive Museum.

I think that Perthenon problem has dragged on for a century, not only because Britain does not want to return the unique values that attract crowds of people from all over the world to the British Museum. Obviously, there is a great fear of creating a precedent that push many museums, many collections, and many countries will make claims against each other. This fear is understandable. We in Russia have been discussing the Shchukin collection for many years… Professional Museum workers are generally very careful about this issue. Throughout history, all the painful problems as it evolved and where it came from. And it is scarred to touch them – because explosion may occur. I believe that we need to touch it. I think that vicious and criminal decisions, as well as serious mistakes, must be corrected. And I believe that this will happen in future, because a culture was built on mistakes is like colossus on clay feet, which sooner or later will collapse. And it is better not to bring it to this!

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