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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Who owns Culture? Dr Tiffany Jenkins on the Parthenon Marbles
Tiffany Jenkins certainly knows how to raise eyebrows, not least those of her fellow panellists discussing “Who owns Culture” on Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, Monday 15 February, 2016. And no wonder. Let us consider a string of pronouncements which cannot pass unchallenged.
Did Elgin save the marbles from being “ground for mortar”? Possibly some the rubble from the explosion of 1687 was being thus recycled. Because of the difficulty of transporting building materials in antiquity it was established practice to reuse available fallen masonry. It is however highly unlikely that any of the pieces that Elgin’s workmen hacked and crowbarred off the Parthenon were at such risk?
Did Elgin rescue them from damage through exposure to the elements? With hindsight, yes. Acid rain certainly damaged those left in situ, but acid rain was not a problem in Athens in the 18th century. It did not play a part in Elgin’s purpose.
Were the marbles “Decontextualised” in the British Museum? No. They were Recontextualised. Their original context was incorporated in the British Museum’s artificial construct. Their original context is inalienable. The British Museum’s is contingent.
Is repatriation an invalid concept because “no object is where it was created”. Unless I am corrected my understanding has always been that raw blocks of marble were transported to the Acropolis and sculpted there. Indeed, as the work proceeded, on the Parthenon itself. This is fundamental to our argument – that the Parthenon is a fixed monument (and not any old fixed monument) and the marbles belong with it.
Does it matter that “they cannot go back on the Parthenon”? Isn’t it now established curatorial practice for monumental sites to have museums attached, for contextual purposes, to display related objects AND if necessary to protect vulnerable pieces from exposure to the elements. The Acropolis Archaeological Park and the Acropolis Museum are an outstanding example.
Does it matter that “they aren’t the same as the originals” (which were olychromatic)? That may be relevant to the question as to whether they should be repainted but it is not relevant to the reunification of the single artistic entity. The form is more important than the original painted surface.
Does it matter that you “only 65% survives”? What matters is that what survives is divided roughly 50/50 between London and Athens. Since when has it been a requirement that 100% completeness is necessary to restore a work, particularly monumental masonry?
Was the argument when they arrived in England more about their worth than the manner of Elgin’s acquiring of them? Certainly Tiffany Jenkins can cite men of culture who regarded them as a heap of old ruins, and certainly much of the discussion in the Select Committee convened to consider their purchase was on the level of “never mind the quality, feel the width”, but the evidence is, and indeed much of the justification for retaining them, that they were valued for their transformatory cultural effect.
As for Tiffany Jenkins assertion in her book that “few doubt the legal right of the British Museum to keep the Elgin Marbles”, the less said the better.
Eddie O'Hara, Chairman BCRPM
Openings: Judgment is not set in stone by Tiffany Jenkins
Letter in the Financial Times in response to Tiffany Jenkins article 12 February 2016 Openings: Judgment is not set in stone.
Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended up in Museums, and Why They Should Stay There by Tiffany Jenkins
Museums shouldn’t be sending any treasures back, insists this forthright study. John Carey Published: 14 February 2016 in the Sunday Times Review
Classics for all
This month marks a year since BCRPM lost a long serving Deputy Chairman, Christopher Price.
Chris continues to be missed, his energy and dedicaion to the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles was second to none.
His obituary written by Julia Langdon in the Guardian can be read online here.
Sitting with Chris in Athens on a number of occassions from 2000 to 2009, soaking up the Attica light, I was in awe of his knowledge and passion for the classics. He was a firm believer in classics for all. A belief shared equally by new BCRPM member Edith Hall.
Edith's article on the importance of access to ideas from classical antiquity was published in the Guardian Review and can be read on line here
Edith Hall's Ode on a Grecian Quarry
Judith Hall's 'Ode on a Grecian Quarry' lifted our January spirits. If you haven't read this blog, do make time to do so, even after January. We also appreciated the photos which were graced by that Attica light -we're certain that the TV crew found it perfect for their filming too.
And so to the thought about where the fragmented Parthenon Marbles would best be viewed. The 'crowbarred ' frieze blocks, metopes and pedimental statues that were removed in the early nineteenth century by Lord Elgin and transported to Britain, would look amazing - when and if - they might be reunited.... in Athens.
To read Edith blog, view it here
2016 a significant year for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
2016 is a significant year for the Parthenon Marbles and for campaigners all over the world that have campaigned tirelessly, selflessly for the reunification of a peerless work of art.
The Parthenon temple on the Acropolis of Athens, constructed between 448 and 432 BC, with its sculpted pediments, metopes and frieze is universally regarded as the high point of classical art.
It survived largely intact until suffering bomb damage in 1687 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece. Thereafter the damaged structure and fallen masonry lay relatively untouched.
In 1801 Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman court, obtained limited licence for his agents to collect some pieces of stone from the acropolis to adorn his home in Scotland.
They thereupon set about cutting sculpted blocks from the metopes, pediments and frieze of the Parthenon. Between then and 1805, when the authorities in Athens forbade further collecting, they collected numerous shiploads of sculptures which were dispatched to England. There was much contemporary criticism of Elgin’s actions on grounds of dubious legality and moral impropriety.
In 1811, financially stressed by the costs of his enterprise, Elgin offered to sell the marbles to the nation for £62,400. The matter was considered by a Select Committee in 1815 and in 1816 they were purchased by Act of Parliament for £35,000 and placed in the trust of the British Museum.
The Greek State has demanded the repatriation of these marbles since it gained full independence in 1832. Currently they demand specifically 92 pieces held by the British Museum including 15 metopes, 17 pedimental sculptures and 80 metres of frieze. These amount to over 50% of the surviving sculptures. Apart from a few isolated pieces in other museums, the remainder is in Athens.
Neil Kinnock once famously described the Parthenon with its missing sculptures as “a gap toothed smile”. This description applies no less to the current display of the Parthenon Sculptures in the glass walled Parthenon Gallery of the Acropolis Museum. This has been described as “the one place on earth where it is possible to have a simultaneous visual and aesthetic experience of the Parthenon and its sculptures”.
The Parthenon is a fixed monument. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its sculptures are integral structural components. Half have been removed with cutting equipment and are now displayed 1500 miles away in the British Museum. This is a unique cultural outrage. The onus of justification is on NOT reunifying them.
The Parthenon and its sculptures are iconic symbols of Greek cultural identity. There are strong cultural, ethical, and museological grounds for reunifying them. If this cannot be done consensually, let it be determined by a process of mediation.
The Parthenon Marbles: To litigate or not to litigate?
The Parthenon Marbles: To litigate or not to litigate?
In an ideal world the issue of the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles would be settled on cultural grounds, to restore the integrity of a single work of art of rare importance. Recourse to litigation ought not to be necessary.
The BCRPM, British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles however is not purist about this. If the matter were to be resolved through litigation we would be gratified. Litigation however must be treated with care.
In the case of the Parthenon Marbles litigation has much in common with the Trident nuclear deterrent. Its value is more in its threat than in its use, for a number of reasons, including:
a. Certainly there is much evidence that Lord Elgin exceeded the authority granted to him by the Ottoman authorities in amputating large amounts of structural components from the Parthenon, but much of it is circumstantial and not necessarily adequate to satisfy judicial standards of proof. The onus of this proof is on the plaintiff. Thus the judicial hurdle facing the plaintiff (presumably Greece) is higher than that faced by the defendant (the British Museum or the British Government).
b. Add to this the legal technicalities which could thwart even the presentation of the circumstantial evidence. Such as:
- the demise of the Ottoman State under which Elgin’s alleged illegalities took place.
- the fact that the Greek National State did not exist nor had ever existed at that time.
- the statute of limitations after the passage of over 200 years.
c. Much of the massive public sympathy for the demand for reunification derives from the strong impression of illegality and moral dubiety in Elgin’s actions. A single act of suicide by litigation could seriously erode this sympathy vote.
Thus litigation is of more value as a threat in the repertoire of recourses available to the Greek Government as it pursues the matter through diplomatic and other means.
United Nations General Assembly Resolution
In October 2013 the Greek Ministry of Culture hosted the 3rd Annual Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property. The conference opened in the Acropolis Museum and the chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles was invited to deliver the opening address on the dispute over the Parthenon Marbles. He concluded with reference to the recent UNESCO initiative inviting the British Museum and the British Government to submit the dispute to mediation, to which he urged a positive response and a successful outcome.
The rest of the conference was held in the conference centre on the site of Ancient Olympia where it was addressed by a wide range of academic, legal, law enforcement and cultural experts from all five continents. The conclusions of the conference were embodied in a conference resolution which ranged over disputed ownership, illicit removal, the "black" art market, lack of due diligence in the legal art market, the risk to cultural sites and objects in areas of armed conflict and the need for governments and cultural institutions to cooperate with each other and with cultural organisations such as UNESCO. Given the coincidence in timing with the UNESCO initiative on mediation over the Parthenon Marbles dispute this was referenced in the final clause of the resolution.
On December the 9th 2015 following an initiative by the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution with broad international support on the same areas of concern as covered by the conference of experts at Ancient Olympia. This duly included the reference to the dispute over the Parthenon Marbles.
Artemis Papathanassiou, MFA of Greece and Member of the National Consultative Committee for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures commented: “of a major importance, is operative paragraph 7 of the Resolution, which, for the first time, recognizes the recent institution of International Conferences on the Return or Restitution of cultural property (Seoul, Ancient Olympia, Dunhuang, Nevsehir), as well as their concluding documents. Among them, the 'Ancient Olympia Recommendation' of 2013, which calls, among others, for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures. It is for the first time that a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution, in its operative part, refers to this issue, even indirectly.”
More on the Olympia Conference here
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Friday night jazz in the restaurant of the Acropolis Museum
Starting this Friday 27 November 2015, the Acropolis Museum will stays open from 8am in the morning until 10pm in the evening and the restaurant will remain open until midnight, with dinner menus on offer from 8 pm onwards.
On Friday 27 November, plus 04, 11, 18 & December 2015, Acropolis Museum visitors will be given an opportunity to listen jazz and savour exquisite cuisine based on classic and traditional recipes - simultaneously soaking up the magnificent views of the Acropolis at night.
The Acropolis Museum restaurant will host a musical ensemble consisting of three well-known musicians from the Athens jazz scene - guitarist Elizabeth Mitsos, pianist Pantelis Mpenetato and Harry Pantazi on contrabass. This jazz trio will provide a memorable collection of music from iconic jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington.