Wednesday 29 November 2023

The Parthenon Sculptures and the political arena

Metope from the Parthenon © David Gill

Listeners to Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament today can hardly have failed to notice that the Parthenon marbles are very much a live issue (see "PMQs: Rishi Sunak accuses Greek PM of grandstanding over Elgin Marbles", BBC News 29 November 2023). This follows the cancellation of a planned meeting between the British Prime Minister and the Greek Prime Minister that had been due to take place earlier in the week ("Sunak cancels Greek PM meeting in Parthenon Sculptures row", BBC News 28 November 2023). 

So much of the debate has been about whether or not the British Museum has the legal powers to return the sculptures. The Leader of the Opposition has hinted that he would be open to supporting a loan to Athens ("Parthenon Sculptures: Row about politics as much as history", BBC News 28 November 2023). 

But the art historical position is surely this: was the intention of the sculptors who created these architectural marbles—as well as Pheidias who oversaw the project—that they should be displayed together rather than to be dispersed? And should they be placed so that the public can see them in line of sight with the Parthenon? 

Then there is a cultural question: how can the display of the sculptures in Athens enhance the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Akropolis

© David Gill

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