UNESCO Says British Museum Should Review Stance on Parthenon Marbles

PARIS – At UNESCO’s 22nd Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property (ICPRCP) in Paris, the committee recommended that the British Museum should review its position on the return of the Parthenon Marbles and the UK government should enter into talks with Greece, The Art Newspaper (TAN) reported on October 4.

Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni was also cited for her remarks concerning the Parthenon Marbles and the UNESCO committee recommendations, as the Greek City Times reported: “The [UNESCO] committee urgently calls on the United Kingdom to review its position and enter into a discussion with Greece, recognizing that the issue is of an intergovernmental nature— in contrast to claims from the British side that it is a matter for the British Museum— and mainly that Greece has a valid and legal claim to demand the return of the sculptures to their place of birth.”

Mendoni also noted that “the committee referred to ‘the poor conditions of exposure [display] that the sculptures are kept in at the British Museum,’” TAN reported, adding that “in August, water seeping into the British Museum’s Greek galleries from a leaky roof had delayed the reopening of seven galleries of Greek art, including the museum’s display of the Parthenon sculptures.”

A British Museum spokeswoman told TAN: "Galleries 12, 13 and 14 have reopened. Galleries 15 through 18 (which include the Parthenon marbles) are closed whilst further assessments to building structure are done. These will be reopened later in the autumn this year."

A spokeswoman for UNESCO said that the recommendations were made by the ICPRCP which “promotes the return of cultural property to its countries of origin or its restitution in case of illicit appropriation,” TAN reported, noting that “the ICPRCP advisory body facilitates bilateral negotiations and offers mediator services to states concerning the return and restitution of cultural property.”

“The ICPRCP has regularly called for the UK to review its stance regarding the Parthenon Marbles over the past three decades,” TAN reported, adding that “the fifth-century-BC statues have been housed in the British Museum since 1816 after they were removed from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens by the Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin, the then-ambassador to the Ottoman court.”

“In an online statement, the trustees of the British Museum say that Elgin acted with the full knowledge and permission of the legal authorities of the day in both Athens and London,” TAN reported.

The statement continues: “The sculptures on display in London convey huge public benefit as part of the museum's worldwide collection,” TAN reported, noting that the statement also “reiterates 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.’”

“According to Artnet News, the UNESCO intergovernmental commission voted unanimously for the first time at its 22nd session to include the return of the Parthenon Sculptures in its recommendation documents,” TAN reported on October 5.


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