Is he in touch with the electorate? A recent online poll of its readership by The Museums Journal revealed that 60% of respondents agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s idea, a readership you’d have thought would be reasonably biased towards museums, curation, and so on.
So what’s the big deal with these marbles, lost or otherwise?
Well, in around 440BC, a sculptor called Pheidias and his assistants created the Parthenon sculptures for the building of the same name in Athens, where they remained until the 7th Earl of Elgin set eyes on them in 1801. He went about obtaining two royal decrees from the ruling Ottoman Empire, giving him permission to remove about half the sculptures and ship them back to Britain. Some sank en route, but all eventually made it. The Earl received a mixed reception in Britain and the ethical dilemma of keeping the sculptures was subject to a debate by a Parliamentary Select Committee. But finally, in 1816, he sold the marbles to the British Museum for £35,000 where they now reside in a purpose built gallery.
Greece has been asking for the sculptures back for decades, but the UK government states that the decision is up to the trustees of the British Museum. The British Museum states on its website that ‘…the sculptures are part of everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries. The Trustees remain convinced that the current division allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance for world culture and affirming the universal legacy of ancient Greece’.
A museum has been constructed in Athens especially for the marbles, where they could be shown in Greek sunlight on a replica of the Parthenon, alongside the many marbles already there. That doesn’t include the other Parthenon marbles kept in an array of museums across Europe, by the way…
It is an emotive subject that is likely to continue being so. What do you think?
The marbles were originally stored at the Earl of Elgin’s home in London and, over the years, have been subjected to some rather brutal cleaning attempts. Knowledge about how to care for ancient marble has improved over the last two centuries, but to talk to an expert about heritage storage and how to store and care for your valuable artefacts you need to get in touch with Michael Watts, our Senior Manager Heritage Sector, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps Mr Corbyn will be calling us for some advice about transporting those marbles back to Greece…
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