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British Museum Offers Only to Loan Parthenon Marbles to Greece

LONDON – British Museum Deputy Director Jonathan Williams has proposed a “Parthenon partnership” to loan back to Greece the Parthenon Marbles that were stolen more than 200 years ago – on condition they be returned.

That was similar to earlier proposals that went nowhere, with Greece not wanting to cede ownership under such a deal, and as he said vehemently that the Marbles will not be given to Greece permanently.

“We will loan the sculptures, as we do many other objects, to those who wish to display them to other public around the world, provided they will look after them and return them,” he said in an interview with the British Sunday Times.

“The sculptures are an absolutely integral part of the British Museum,” Williams added. “They have been here over 200 years.” But he added that, “We want to change the temperature of the debate,” to offer a loan only.

“We need to find a way forward around cultural exchange of a level, intensity and dynamism which has not been conceived hitherto. There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend. It is what we do,” Williams added.

Williams said he wants “An active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece. I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”

There was no initial indication whether the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would accept those terms although he earlier had offered to loan the British Museum other Greek treasures for the marbles.

The Parthenon Project campaign group said: “We need a forward-looking, mutually beneficial agreement, in the form of a cultural partnership between Greece and Britain. This would see the Parthenon Sculptures permanently return to their rightful home in Athens and other wonderful Greek objects displayed in Britain for the first time, making sure this exchange works for both sides.”

The sculptures – 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis – were taken by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th Century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Forbes magazine Guy Martin wrote that, “The cultural administrators and ruling politicians of Greece, do not seem to have had the chance to hear from the museum nor to state their own preferences.”

He added that, “There are many objects in the museum’s collection whose provenance is not (yet) under dispute, and there is certainly no suggestion in the Times article or elsewhere that the British Museum is anywhere close to having the crate-builders in or booking the ship,” for the marbles return.


The British Museum has forever said that means it is the rightful owner, not Greece, even though the occupying Turks didn’t own the marbles and had no right to let Elgin take them from the Acropolis.

For generations they were called The Elgin Marbles, implying British ownership, although the late acress and former Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri was instrumental in labeling them the Parthenon Marbles – and the museum refers to them as the Parthenon Sculptures.

Mitsotakis has restated that Greece is open to negotiations but said: “Baby steps are not enough. We want big steps,” said the British newspaper The Guardian, but he hasn’t been willing to take legal action for their return.

Acropolis Museum Director Nikolaos Stampolidis, said there could be a “basis for constructive talks” with the “positive Parthenon partnership” offer.

He added: “In the difficult days we are living in, returning them would be an act of history. It would be as if the British were restoring democracy itself,” the Guardian reported he said.

The British Museum has insisted it is the rightful owner and Director Hartwig Fischer, a German art historian, said their theft was a “creative act,” adding to the furor over the thievery.

The marbles are a major draw for the British Museum, attracting more than six million people a year, more than four times than those who come to the Acropolis Museum that was opened in 2009.

Its designed includes a top glass-walled floor with space for the marbles if they are returned with a direct view of the nearby Acropolis and Parthenon the facility built as a retort to the British Museum arguing Athens had no place to keep them.

Earlier this year, the Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Sicily, agreed to return a Parthenon fragment to Greece as part of an extensive exchange agreement with the Acropolis Museum, but not return it.

An online statement previously posted by the museum reiterated that the trustees have never been asked for a loan of the Parthenon sculptures by Greece, “only for the permanent removal of all of the sculptures in its care to Athens.”

In June, British Museum Chairman George Osborne there is a “deal to be done” over sharing the Parthenon Marbles with Greece, raising the idea that there could be some sort of return, if only temporarily.

Earlier this year, Eleni Vassilika, the former keeper of antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, said that “the arguments against the return of the Marbles are no longer tenable,” said The Art Newspaper.

But the classical archaeologist Mario Trabucco della Torretta said that sending the sculptures to Athens would “only feed the beast of ideology and nationalist myth,” supporting the British Museum keeping stolen goods.


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