Friday, September 9, 2011

Turkey and the V&A

It appears that Turkey has asked London's Victoria and Albert Museum to return the head from a Roman sarcophagus (Rob Sharp, "Turkey demands return of its 'Elgin marble'", The Independent September 6, 2011). The head was removed by Lt.-Col. Sir Charles W. Wilson, British military consul-general in Anatolia (1879-82); see C.W. Wilson, "Notes on the physical and historical geography of Asia Minor, made during journeys in 1879-82." Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography 6 (1884) 305-25 [JSTOR]. In 1882 Wilson explored a tomb at Ambar Arassi, the ancient Sidamaria, where he found a Roman sarcophagus. One of the heads was removed, and it was this piece that was subsequently presented to the V&A.

The sarcophagus was subsequently removed and transported by railway to the Konya Museum and then sent to the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul (see W.M. Ramsay, "Note sur le sarcophage d'Amber-Arasi." Revue des études anciennes (1901) 358).

Wilson had earlier helped to survey Jerusalem and his worked contributed to the foundation of the Palestine Exploration Fund. He also assisted with the survey of the Sinai.

Sharp quotes Tolga Tuyluoglu, the director of Turkey's culture and tourism office in London:
"The Turkish ministry of culture thinks this item belongs to Turkey. We believe if an item has been removed from a country then it should be returned to the original place."
It was clearly the intention of the sculptor that this head should be an integral part of the sarcophagus. The return of the disputed fragment so that it cold be reunited with the complete sculpture in Istanbul would be a gesture of goodwill towards Turkey.

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