Welcome to the site of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. These pages contain detailed information on the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles, together with the case for their return to Athens, Greece. If you would like to find out about the various ways to get involved with the campaign, or simply to learn more about the subject, then please read on.
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Bell Pottinger poll on the"Elgin Marbles". Caveat lector.
On the 18th of February 2015 a news item appeared on the ITV website to the effect that 60% of art experts think that the "Elgin Marbles" should stay in London. This catches the eye because it contradicts all the opinion polls taken over two decades or more. The story does not appear to have gained wide currency, but it exists out there in the ether and should be examined.
It appears to originate in the Arts Report of Bell Pottinger Arts, which had examined which city would be the Arts Capital of the world in 2015. They canvassed art experts of various specialisms who concluded that it would be London. So far so good. But then it gets a bit murky. They add what can best be described as a footnote:
"Bell Pottinger has no wish to to enter the public debate about the issues regarding the ownership and location of the Elgin Marbles - or the Parthenon Marbles as they are also known - however we were keen to understand the mood of opinion in the arts world on this perennially controversial subject. Sixty per cent felt they should remain in the British Museum while forty per cent thought they should be returned to Greece."
This poll is open to a number of questions about its purpose, its structure, its methodology and its findings.
- A "keenness to understand" does not really explain why a hard headed commercial player like Bell Pottinger, conducting a survey of the international markets of the art world, bothered to tack on a footnote about an issue of principle(s), especially as they "had no wish to enter the public debate".
- The sample (70) is miniscule.
- When it is broken down it produces a list of even more miniscule
- It is not random.
- Its geographical distribution is questionable.
- The specialisms included are heavily biased towards those which deal with art as a commodity for trading.
- The shadowy group called "political" requires clarification.
- No indication is given of the questions asked, as is normal in an opinion poll.
- Consequently no breakdown is given of the responses, by question or by category of respondent.
- The lists of "reasons" for supporting retention or return are similarly not broken down or analysed.
- They are broadly indicative of a superficial rather than a specialist knowledge of the issue.
- It would be particularly interesting to know more about the views of galleries and museums specialists, who might be expected to know more about the issues of principle.
In summary, this survey is an oddity. It claims to be disinterested. We trust that this is so, and that it will not be utilised by others with more vested interest. Its structure and methodology are too opaque and inadequate to allow any confidence in its findings. Caveat lector.
* The survey:
Bell Pottinger held 70 separate conversations with the arts communities in London, the Middle East and Asia. Respondents were invited to answer a number of questions anonymously.
Of the 70 correspondents 50 (74%) were UK based, and 20 (26%) were equally split between the Middle East and Asia.
The respondents were classified into five groups:
18 (26%) Galleries and museums
17 (224%) Advisors (fine art dealers, restorer, archivists, wealth
managers, insurers, legal experts, sponsorship brokers, event
14 (20%) Arts media
14 (20%) Other (Auction houses, collectors, artists, performing arts,
schools and universities)
7 (10%) Political (Those in the political world who advise on the arts or who have specific interests in art).
** Points made in favour of keeping the marbles:
- The dreadful precedent set for museums all over the world
- The length of time that had passed
- The "legality" of the original transfer
- The magnificent way in which the BM has looked after them
- The fact that over 6m people visit the BM every year
*** Points made in favour of return
- That they were stolen and should be returned
- Even if the law does not support this, the moral obligation exists
- Maybe copies can be made
- A more intelligent, respectful and co-operative conversation as
opposed to a purely nationalistic argument was probably the sensible
Christopher Price's contribution to the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles was distinguished and distinctive
Chris Price, outstandingly educated among parliamentarians, and at the same time sympathetic and universally liked as a man, has died at the age of 83. From the moment of the British Committee’s foundation, now over thirty years ago, he was an active member. What made him irreplaceable, both as member and later as Deputy Chair, was his deep understanding of not merely the political, but the constitutional issues that arise in connection with the Parthenon Marbles.
This enabled him to see through, at best obscurity at worst frustration, between the roles, rights and responsibilities of the government, parliament and the Trustees of the British Museum. More than that, he was personally acquainted with and highly respected by a series of ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, most of them first elected to Parliament after his own time. Privately, at least, some of them were ready to acknowledge that, in the endless efforts to hold the ‘official line’, the voice of the British public was effectively being drowned.
His other great contribution, in later years, was in promoting the idea of ‘cultural mobility’, of free discussion, between cultural institutions, of the cases where cooperation and the acknowledgment of interdependence could take the place of stone-walling, non-communication and downright triumphalism.
After his first heart attack on New Year’s Day 2010, things were never quite the same again but, thanks in no small degree to his wife Annie’s untiring care, he rallied and participated actively for at least another couple of years. We too shall miss him sorely.
Chair, British Committee, 2002-2010
Athony Snodgrass, Eleni Cubitt and Chris Price in Athens June 2009 for the opening of the Acropolis Museum
Chris Price's contribution to the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles was distinguished. It was also distinctive. His commitment was grounded in a rare combination of attributes.
Many classical scholars trace their first engagement with the issue from their education. Many were fired by early student experience in Greece. Many have been motivated by moral and cultural considerations. Many have had the gift of eloquent and persuasive argument by pen or tongue. Many have devoted long years to the cause. All this can be said of Chris. But he was also a politician, not tribal - that was perhaps a drawback - but deeply committed and able in the "art of the possible". He was one of that cohort of able Labour MPs who lost the opportunity of a distinguished career in government, quite likely with ministerial responsibility, during the Labour Party's long, lost years after 1979. He did however have the opportunity to show what might have been when appointed to Chair the Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, as it was then called. What if he had had the opportunity to serve as Secretary of State with that portfolio? Might we have seen a response to the issue of the marbles based not only good political sense but also on deep understanding and empathy? We'll never know, but we certainly lost the opportunity to find out when Chris went into opposition and then lost his seat. Nevertheless we do have much for which to thank him, we mourn his passing and we offer condolences to Annie and their whole family.
Eddie O'Hara, Chairman
Chris Price with Professor Pandermalis, Acropolis Museum 2009
Christopher Price's struggle for the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles was invaluable and will be missed. We offer our condolences to his family at this sad time.
The Board of Directors of the Melina Mercouri Foundation
To read the story on the Marbles Reunited's web site, please click here
"Chris Price was for many a years a champion of the cause to have the Parthenon Sculptures returned from Britain to Greece. He was a brilliant and passionate man and enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to have known him." David Hill, Chairman, International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.
The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures extended their deepest sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Chris Price. Michael Reppas wrote: "Chris was a positive force in the campaign and his dedication toward the cause should always be remembered. It was an honor to have worked with him and we are all saddened by his loss."
Chris Price with Michael Reppas, President of ACRPS
Obituaries in UK newspapers:
Christopher Price on the sculptures from the Parthenon:
"The only thing British about them is the fact that one of our ambassadors filched them."
And more comments by Christopher:
Eleni Cubitt, Chris Price and Anthony Snodgrass, Ambassadors of Hellenism
The Marbles Campaign: Where do we go from here?
Christopher Price, 31 May, 2010
Over the past two or three decades, the campaign to re-unite the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens has received global publicity. It is now important, however, for us to consider how to put the issue in a wider international “cultural mobility” context.
“Cultural mobility” is become a common phase among those who want to see an atmosphere of cooperation supplant arguments in the past. A recent conference in Ohio put it like this: Globalization is now one of the most common terms to describe how we interact with other countries in the 21st century. Perhaps a better term is “interdependence.” Interdependence helps us understand how we can have shared opportunities to participate and enjoy a genuine sense of belonging. Collaboration and cooperation are becoming the approaches of choice, replacing the pursuit of short-term exchange. In this context, it is only a period of genuine cooperation between all sorts of institutions – governments, museums and international bodies – that will be able to find solutions.
A wider, even worldwide, discussion about the appropriate location of cultural objects might help begin a genuine bipartite discussion between the UK and Greece about the integrity of classical sculptures currently in the British Museum.
It follows that another priority for campaigning organisations and the UK parliament is to make sure that the respective powers and influence of the Trustees of the British Museum, the British government and the British Parliament are balanced in such a way that there can be a public discussion about how to take this issue forward. The British Museum was established by the British Parliament and not by the British Government; the Trustees hold their office in trust for the people of Britain but yet have made little effort to explain to the people the current position and arguments over the location of the marbles. The Government and Parliament have a similar duty. This is particularly important at a time when the Trustees will soon be seeking a new Director for the Museum. The current director, Neil MacGregor, is a superb communicator. If the Marbles issue is to be solved, his successor will need to be a superb negotiator.
Both the marketing of cultural relics and arguments about their ‘ownership’ are as old as the hills. We now need a new regime of discussions – open to all citizens of the world – which can take the place of insoluble haggling over history, location, ownership and legal status. This will require not so much recourse to national and international courts of law; instead we need a global environment of museums and nations cooperating with one another in which the mobility of cultural objects and agreements about their location and preservation can be discussed without pre-conditions.
Greeks hold candlelight vigil for the Parthenon marbles
The Parthenon Gallery in the Acropolis Museum, is the one place on earth where it is possible to have a single and aesthetic experience simultaneously of the Parthenon and its sculptures.
It is not a matter of who owns them, it is a matter of where they should be.
Vigil held on Sunday 18 January 2015, at the Acropolis Museum is one of many more to come.
Eddie O'Hara, Chairman for the British Committee adds "the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures rests on the fact that those in the British Museum are part of an artistic unity with those in the Acropolis Museum and together they are part of a unity with the Parthenon. Separated, their artistic integrity is impaired."
Never Again (Back to Athens), song by Sarah Fenwick and Marinos Neofytou dedicated to the sculptures from the Parthenon
The song 'Never Again' was composed by Cypriot guitarist Marinos Neofytou and goes to the roots of ethnic jazz. Inspired by the Greek-sounding melody, jazz singer Sarah Fenwick wrote lyrics about reuniting the beautiful Parthenon Marbles in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, from where they were taken by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century.
Sarah and Marinos were moved by the plight of these marbles. Sarah commented " these marbles considered a work of art belonging to ancient Greek civilisation, and as such, their sad separation from the warmth of Greece is a long-running theme in the art world."
The song is part of the duet's new CD 'Jazz Origins', which seeks to show the various and diverse roots of jazz, with original songs from the Blues, Ethnic, Latin, and Lullaby traditions, which form the great foundations of this amazing music genre.
"Inspiring the song was a suggestion from campaigners at the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parrthenon Marbles, whose work on behalf of the cause of reuniting the Parthenon Marbles has brought life to the possibility that they will be returned to Greece" added Sarah Fenwick.
You can listen to 'Never Again' on you tube.
The sculptures’ seizure remains a disgraceful chapter in our history.
16 December 2014
Letters page Evening Standard
Lord Elgin did not save the marbles
It is the height of disingenuousness for the British Museum’s Neil MacGregor to claim that Lord Elgin “rescued” the Parthenon sculptures for the sake of art (December 12). There is convincing evidence in Elgin’s correspondence that he sought to place them in his own home, only agreeing to their sale to the government as security on a bad debt.
Contrary to his claims, he had no authorisation to hack the sculptures from the Parthenon. Even contemporary British accounts criticised his actions as “the most flagrant acts of spoliation”. The sculptures’ seizure remains a disgraceful chapter in our history.
Why has the British Museum loan of Ilissos to Russia's Hermitage Museum caused a stir?
The river god Ilissos has been loaned by the British Museum to St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, Russia and will be on display there until mid-January 2015 before returning to London
So the British Museum "under a cloak of secrecy both for security and to ensure maximum impact" has lent a pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon to the Hermitage. Could we suggest a third reason? To delay and manage the predictable surge of outrage which this action has caused not only in Greece, of course, but in many countries around the world where groups campaign for the reunification of the sculptures of the Parthenon, not least here in Britain where opinion poll after opinion poll returns a substantial majority in support. The sculpture was transported by air and not by the more obvious means of road transport, perhaps to avoid formal or informal intervention en route. However the British Museum may well find that it has shot itself in the foot. Its action will widely be construed as at best insensitive and at worst frankly provocative and give a fresh stimulus to the campaign for the reunification of the sculptures of the Parthenon.
The accompanying news management by the British Museum scales new heights of disingenuousness. Lord Elgin did not "rescue" the sculptures. He collected them. His original purpose was not to introduce the British public to the wonders of Greek art. It was to decorate his home in far northeast Scotland, where precious few of the British public would have had the chance to see them. By cutting them from the building he was not setting an example followed by the later Greek Government. It was mutilation. It never occurred to anyone to demount the sculptures until the advent of industrial pollution and acid rain. Their "reputation as art rather than decoration" was not "forged in London". They were art from the moment of their creation. They were never mere decoration. They were integral elements of a building which was itself a work of art.
The 7th Lord Elgin
The cultural warming of "chilled" relations with Russia is at the expense of a bonfire of relations with Greece and public relations in other countries and closer to home. The display of the Cyrus cylinder in Iran is not a good comparison. Are there no Russian treasures in the museum's collection which they could have loaned? Why a Greek treasure which they will not allow into Greece?
It is not true that they would loan to the Greeks but they would refuse a loan on grounds of disputed ownership. In 2002 they refused a request from culture minister Venizelos for a loan, and in 1995 culture minister Pangalos said, "Let's put aside arguments about ownership and talk about where the sculptures should be". It is not only for "more than 40 years" that Greece has requested their return. Published documents exist to show that the demand has been constant from the very inception of the Greek State as a legal entity.
Then what about the statistical conjuring trick of saying that 30 per cent of the 30 per cent that has been lost is in other museums. That sounds a lot until you realise that that is 9 per cent. And even that is an exaggeration when you add up one metope and one slab of maybe a metre of frieze in the Louvre and a few small fragments elsewhere. But perhaps the most egregious example is the way in which the funeral oration of Pericles is traduced. Yes, Pericles did say that the whole world is a monument to those who die in war. It was his equivalent of our "age shall not wither them..." Intoned annually at memorial services. It stretches his meaning too far to transfer this to the sculptures as ambassadors of Athens in foreign lands. In fact Pericles in the same oration refers to "mighty monuments of our power which will make us wonder of this and succeeding generations." He did not need to point. His audience would almost certainly have looked across the Acropolis, crowned with the Parthenon. The Parthenonis still there. It does indeed immortalise Periclean Athens. Half (to be precise, just under half) of its surviving sculpted elements are there. Just over half in London. Surely the onus of justification is on NOT bringing them all together, and Athens is the only place where that can happen.
The Parthenon Gallery in the Acropolis Museum, the one place on earth where it is possible to have a single and aesthetic experience simultaneously of the Parthenon and its sculptures
Let us be clear: the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures rests on the fact that those in the British Museum are part of an artistic unity with those in the Acropolis Museum and together they are part of a unity with the Parthenon. Separated, their artistic integrity is impaired. In some cases single sculptures are separated thus.
It is not a matter of who owns them, it is a matter of where they should be. Indeed argument about ownership is a diversion and distraction from the cultural arguments on which this matter should properly be resolved.
The sculptures of the Parthenon do not need the British Museum to demonstrate their quality and importance. No more does the British Museum need the Parthenon sculptures to prove its excellence. Sure they enhance it. But in essence they are essentially exemplars to illustrate its cross cultural narrative, chosen because of their existence in the museum's collection as a result of an accident of history - the divorce do the 7th Lord Elgin which bankrupted him and forced him to sell his collection to the government in a fire sale.
Q & A with Eddie O'Hara
Q: WHY, AS BRITISH CAMPAIGNERS, ARE YOU FOR THE RETURN OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES TO GREECE?
A: The issue of the reunification of these sculptures is a a matter of universal concern. We as British campaigners have a particular responsibility in this as it is a British museum, which holds half of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon.
We also have a particular responsibility to convince the British press, public and politicians of the need to reunify them with their counterparts in Athens.
We have had much success in persuading the British public, as indicated by numerous opinion polls, and also professional opinion, as demonstrated by a 2012 poll in the Museums Journal showing a majority of 73% in favour of reunification, but less so with politicians and the cultural establishment.
Much of our campaigning is focused on informing and educating a critical mass of the general public which could not be ignored by elected politicians and the cultural establishment.
Q: IS THE MODERN GREEK STATE THE LEGITIMATE OWNER OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES.
A:Legal title to the ownership of these sculptures is extremely difficult to establish conclusively.
It is well documented that The British Government purchased the sculptures legally from Lord Elgin.
However Lord Elgin acquired the sculptures in questionable circumstances, the evidence for which is difficult to determine in full detail. There is much evidence that he exceeded what he had been given authority to remove by the Ottoman authorities.
The Ottoman state could be argued to have had legal title at the time of Elgin's acquisition; but the modern Turkish state is a different entity.
The Greek national state did not exist at the time of Elgin's acquisition of the sculptures and had never existed before that.
The only entity that could be argued to have had undisputed legal title was the demos of ancient Athens, but that did not survive antiquity.
Then there have to be taken into account differences of property ownership across time and countries, including the British Museum Act 1963.
But anyway, this should be seen not as a legal but essentially as a cultural issue. The sculptures belong to the Parthenon.
Q: IS THE BRITISH MUSEUM'S REFUSAL TO RETURN THE MARBLES LEGITIMATE.
A: Over the years the British Museum has advanced a number of arguments which have been described as "historical curiosities discredited variously as inconsequential, disingenuous, debatable, statistically dubious or just plain wrong" (E O'Hara, Museums Journal, 112/06, 01/06/2012).
The one that continues to have specious public resonance is the "floodgates" argument - that to concede to the demand for the return of these sculptures would set a precedent leading to a flood of similar requests which would, if conceded, denude the galleries of the great museums.
This argument is incidentally close to an admission that much of the cultural property in the great museums is of questionable provenance. It is also overstated. The great museums have on permanent display a mere fraction, perhaps 20%, of the property in their collections. Also, not every demand would be of equal merit and each would be considered on its merits.
But anyway, the "floodgates" argument does not apply to the Parthenon Marbles. They are probably uniques in being integral elements of a fixed monument which is a UNESCO world heritage site, sawn off and divided for display, mainly in museums 2,000 miles apart. Thus their reunification would set no precedent.
The British Museum has recently rested its case on its status as a "universal" museum which transcends national cultural boundaries and presents the sculptures in a global context, unlike the "parochial" Acropolis Museum.
The status of "universal" museum is self serving and self designated by the Bizot Group of major museums. It is by no means universally accepted. There is evidence that most visitors do not seek or make the claimed cultural crossconnections. Rather they treat the collections as a smorgasbord of disparate delicacies.
Thus in essence the Parthenon Marbles are at best exemplars in the British Museum's collection and at worst trophies. Whichever way, their presence is essentially elective.
The Acropolis Museum makes no pretensions to being " universal" museum. It is focused on providing a comprehensive and holistic narrative of the Acropolis and is associated monuments. The role of the Parthenon Marbles in this narrative is not elective but integral and essential. This arguably gives the Acropolis Museum greater entitlement than the British Museum to the inclusion of the Parthenon Marbles in its display.
Q: COULD GREECE USE ANY LEGAL MEANS IN THE INTERNATIONAL/EUROPEAN LAW SYSTEM ....... TO RECLAIM THE PARTHENON MARBLES.
A: Greece is currently pursuing the matter through the UNESCO mediation process. An approach has been made to the British Government which has said it will respond in due course. However the issue has been on the agenda of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of the return of Cultural Property since 1987.
Also the Swiss Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is currently pursuing a number of initiatives through the processes of the European Union.
However it is notoriously difficult to secure a judgement from an international organisation such as these against one of its members.
Q: IS THE MARBLES ISSUE A CULTURAL PROBLEM OR ONE OF MODERN NATIONALISM?
A: It is certainly a matter of visceral concern to the Greek people.
This is sometimes misrepresented and criticised as nationalism, a political concept of dubious pedigree.
In fact it is rather a matter of ethnicity: the Greek state and people regard the Parthenon as an iconic symbol of their ethnic identity. This is a cultural concept.
According to the Faro Convention (2005) an identified cultural group have a human right to the enjoyment of their cultural heritage.