Renewed conflict between the United Kingdom and Greece over the issue of statues and marbles from the Parthenon temple in Athens, displayed in the British Museum in London. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak canceled a meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the last minute, after the latter gave an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in which he demanded the return of the Elgin Marbles, and claimed that part of the artifacts were in London and London. The rest in Athens is like cutting the Mona Lisa in half. The Greek government has long called for the return of the sculptures, which were taken from Greece by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.
Part of the friezes that once decorated the Parthenon on the Acropolis, the “Elgin Marbles” as they are known in Britain, have been on display at the British Museum in London for more than two centuries. The rest of the works are located in a specially built museum in Athens. The sculptures were removed in still controversial circumstances at the request of Lord Elgin, the then UK Ambassador to the Ottoman court. The antiquities were shipped to London between 1801 and 1804 and sold to the British Museum in 1816.
These are 17 sculptures that, like the Parthenon, are 2,500 years old. The marbles were part of a frieze that decorated the ancient temple on the Acropolis in the Greek capital. These works made up about half of the 160-metre-long Parthenon frieze, considered one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. These sculptures are considered a symbol of freedom in Greece, where they are known as the Parthenon Marbles.
The British diplomat removed the sculptures in the early nineteenth century, when he was an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the country at the time. Beginning in 1801, Elgin personally supervised the removal and shipping of the marble in 170 boxes to Britain. The diplomat claimed that he had obtained permission from the Ottoman Empire itself, and that he had requested it to protect the works from the neglect in which he feared they would be preserved.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the man asked the artists for permission to measure, draw and copy important pieces of sculpture and architectural details for posterity. Ultimately, the request will be approved, along with the authority to “remove any piece of stone bearing ancient inscriptions or shapes.” But despite extensive documentation at the time, nothing has been found to support Elgin’s purchase.
In the United Kingdom itself, the diplomat of the time received support but also severe criticism. This case caused a sensation and Elgin was accused of greed, sabotage and dishonesty. Lord Byron and many others attacked him viciously in the press. After keeping them for 10 years, it was Elgin himself who sold the works to the British government in 1816 for £35,000, about half the costs he would have incurred, and the marbles then passed into the custody of the British Museum.
Since 1832, when Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, Athens has been trying to recover sculptures and other works of art stolen from the country. More recently, in 2014, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney asked Britain to begin talks with Greece to return the Elgin Marbles. “This is an injustice that has been going on for a very long time,” said the lawyer, who is also known as the wife of Hollywood star George Clooney.
The head of the British Museum, former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, is seeking a temporary loan for Greece and appears to have finalized the deal. But both Sunak and Labor leader Keir Starmer say they will not support changing the British Museum law that currently prevents its return. According to a YouGov poll, 49% of Britons should return the marbles, for 15% they should stay in London, and for 26% both are fine.
Where do Britons think the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles sculptures should be kept?
– YouGov (@YouGov) November 28, 2023
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