Monday 13 March 2023

UK Government and the Parthenon: Update

Parthenon metope in the British Museum © David Gill

British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has commented on the proposal that the architectural sculptures from the Parthenon that are currently displayed in the British Museum should be returned to Greece. Nick Gutteridge, writing in the Daily Telegraph ("Elgin Marbles will not stay in Greece, says Rishi Sunak", March 13, 2023), quotes Sunak on the "Elgin marbles" (commenting, "Greece calls [them] the Parthenon marbles" - perhaps overlooking the fact that archaeologists also talk about the building from which they were removed):
“The UK has cared for the Elgin Marbles for generations. Our galleries and museums are funded by taxpayers because they are a huge asset to this country,”
Is he suggesting that because the sculptures have resided in London for 200 years that they should remain here? Is Sunak placing an economic value on the heritage assets that reside in the UK's museums and galleries?

Sunak is also quoted as saying, 
“We share their treasures with the world, and the world comes to the UK to see them. The collection of the British Museum is protected by law, and we have no plans to change it." 
Tourism seems to be the justification for the UK to retain the sculptures. 

The Times (London) indicated that Sunak was in favour of a temporary loan of (some of?) the sculptures to Greece (Chris Smyth, Oliver Wright, Richard Fletcher, "Rishi Sunak latest: PM unveils defence spending boost and submarine deal", March 13, 2023). The report noted:
However, the museum is banned by law from disposing of objects in its collection and Sunak said “we have no plans to change it”. It is understood that Sunak does not believe that a long-term loan would be in the spirit of the British Museum Act.
There is little understanding that the Parthenon architectural sculptures were designed to be part of a specific building that now forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Athenian Acropolis.

See also D. W. J. Gill and C. Chippindale, "The trade in looted antiquities and the return of cultural property: a British parliamentary inquiry", International Journal of Cultural Property 11 (2002), 50-64. [DOI].

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