The Parthenon Sculptures
Facts and figures
1. The British Museum's collection
1.1 The terms most frequently used are Elgin Marbles, Parthenon marbles, and the British Museum’s preferred term, Parthenon sculptures, or sculptures of the Parthenon.
1.2 Strictly speaking the Elgin Marbles should refer to the whole collection of stone objects acquired by Lord Elgin between 1799 and 1810, purchased for the British Museum with a grant voted by Parliament in 1816. Beside the Parthenon sculptures, there are elements from other buildings on the Acropolis and from elsewhere in Athens – not to mention other sculpture and inscriptions, acquired from other sites on both sides of the Aegean Sea. The most curious is a colossal Egyptian scarab beetle in granite, acquired in Istanbul, and on display in Room 4: Egyptian sculpture. If the term of reference were the ‘Elgin collection’ then besides objects in stone we should include those made of other materials, such as Greek vases, bronzes, jewellery, plaster casts and drawings.
The collection includes the following marble, architecture and architectural sculpture from the Acropolis:
247ft of the original 524ft of frieze
a Caryatid, a column and other architectural members
Temple of Athena Nike
4 slabs of the frieze and architectural members
1.3 It should be noted that besides those acquired from Lord Elgin the British Museum's collection of sculptures from the Parthenon includes fragments from the Society of Dilettanti and from the Steinhäuser, Cockerell, Inwood, Smith-Barry, Colne Park and Chatsworth collections, all of which have no connection with Elgin.
1.4 All the sculptures from the Parthenon in the British Museum are on permanent public display.
2. Other collections with sculptures from the Parthenon
2.1 Material from the Parthenon was dispersed both before and after Elgin. Approximately half of the original total was already destroyed by Elgin’s time. The British Museum holds about half of the surviving sculptures. The remainder is divided among the following locations.
Extensive remains of the metopes (especially east, north and west), frieze (especially north and west) and pediments; sculptures that remained on the building are gradually being removed and these, with others, are now being installed in the New Acropolis Museum
Paris, Musée du Louvre
One frieze block; one metope; fragments of the frieze and metopes; a head from the pediments
Two heads from a metope in the British Museum
Head from a metope in the British Museum
Fragments of metopes, frieze and pediments
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Three fragments of frieze
Fragments of frieze
Palermo, Salinas Archaeological Museum
One fragment of frieze
3. The Legal Status of the British Museum's collection
3.1 Lord Elgin applied to the Ottoman government, the legal authority in Athens at the time, for a firman (licence and letter of instruction) to permit his activities on the Acropolis. This was granted in 1801, and was followed by the issue of a second firman in 1810, allowing the shipping of the remainder of his collection to England. 3.2 In 1816 a Select Committee of the House of Commons found that the collection had been legitimately acquired by Elgin as a private individual. After a debate in the House of Commons, funds were agreed and the collection was acquired for the British Museum, where it is held under the terms of the British Museum Act 1963.
3.3 The Trustees hold the whole of the British Museum collection under the terms of the British Museum Act 1963, for the benefit of the public. This legislation prohibits the Trustees from permanently disposing of objects unless they are duplicates of others already in the collection or are ‘unfit to be retained ... and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students.’ It does, however, provide for objects to be loaned for public exhibition, having ‘regard to the interests of students and other persons visiting the Museum, to the physical condition and degree of rarity of the object in question, and to any risks to which it is likely to be exposed.’ Any decision in connection with a loan request for any object in the collection takes all of these aspects into account. The Trustees may not make 'permanent loans', although renewable loans are possible. The Museum has a published Loans Policy.
4. The Duveen Gallery
4.1 From the beginning of 1817, the Elgin collection was first housed in a temporary gallery designed by Robert Smirke. His permanent 'Elgin Room' (now Room 17) was completed on the west side of the Museum in 1832, and the collection remained there, and subsequently extended into adjacent galleries, until the Duveen Gallery was built in the 1930s.
4.2 The Duveen Gallery was designed especially to house the Parthenon sculptures. It was funded by art connoisseur and dealer Lord Joseph Duveen and designed by American architect John Russell Pope. The building work was completed in 1938, but the outbreak of war in 1939 interrupted installation of the sculptures.
4.3 During the Second World War the sculptures were fully protected. Some were removed to a disused section of the London Underground Railway while others were taken down to the Museum vaults. When the sculptures were first brought out of storage in winter 1948-49, much of the Museum, including the Duveen Gallery, had been ruined by bombing. The Parthenon sculptures were, therefore, returned to the former Elgin Room (Room 17) with a display that was complete by September 1949. It was not until 1962 that the Duveen Gallery finally opened with its intended display of the Parthenon sculptures.
4.4 The Duveen Gallery was designed en suite with two side rooms. Their purpose was to provide explanatory information about the temple and its setting and to display fragments of sculpture and architecture that could not be accommodated in the principal room. In June 1998, with the generous help of the late Lawrence A. Fleischman and Barbara Fleischman, the side rooms were opened as completely refurbished information galleries. The galleries explain the positioning of the sculpture on the building and its original polychromy; a full-scale reconstruction of the upper part of the north-west corner of the building; audio guides and a touch tour for visually impaired visitors, along with models of the temple and the Acropolis. These galleries have been regularly updated. They include an on-going programme of small temporary displays showing historical and contemporary responses to the Parthenon and its sculptures.
5. The cleaning of the Parthenon Sculptures in 1938
5.1 In early 1939 there was considerable press interest in a revelation that during the process of cleaning the Parthenon sculptures for display in the newly constructed Duveen Gallery unauthorised methods were used. Contemporary reports, both official and unofficial, indicate that, in addition to the recommended water and soap, copper chisels and carborundum were used on some of the sculptures over a period of 15 months. The British Museum held an internal enquiry and as a result the Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, F.N. Pryce, took early retirement, a young Assistant Keeper, Roger Hinks, resigned, and all the craftsmen concerned left the Museum's employ.
5.2 There were questions in Parliament, and the Trustees resolved to publish a full report on the effects of the cleaning, but the outbreak of the Second World War intervened. After the War, the sculptures did not emerge from storage until 1949, by which time most observers were happy to herald them as a symbol of the regeneration of post-war Britain. In 1950, however, Cesare Brandi, head of the Institute of Restoration in Rome, published an article critical of the cleaning. There was, surprisingly perhaps, no published response to this attempt at reviving the former controversy until 1984, when the private diaries of Roger Hinks and the Earl of Crawford (a former Trustee) were published posthumously. In the same year full reference to the cleaning was made in the Greek demand for the return of the Parthenon sculptures through UNESCO. The issue was also discussed by the journalist Christopher Hitchens in his book The ElginMarbles - should they be returned to Greece? (1987).
5.3 In 1996 the scholar William St Clair was granted access to see restricted British Museum papers detailing the 1930s cleaning. He made extensive use of these in a chapter of the third edition of his book, Lord Elgin & the Marbles (1998).
5.4 The Museum then announced a scholarly conference in its series of Classical Colloquia. British, Greek and other international experts presented papers. The conference took place on 30 November and 1 December 1999 and addressed the visual and documentary evidence for the cleaning with the aim of determining how and to what extent the surface of the sculptures may have changed. In so doing, attention was also drawn to a similar cleaning in Greece in 1953, using steel chisels and brass wire brushes, of a sculptured frieze of the Parthenon's sister temple in Athens, the Hephaisteion. The conference also looked at wider issues concerning the history and ideas of conservation. For the evidence see I. Jenkins, Cleaning and Controversy: The Parthenon Sculptures 1811-1939 (BM Occasional Paper 146; London 2001)
6. Access to the Parthenon Sculptures
6.1 The British Museum aims to make the sculptures from the Parthenon accessible to and understood by the widest possible audience.
6.2 The Museum is committed to maintaining its long-standing status as a centre for Parthenon studies. It does this by organising conferences and seminars, by publishing scholarly and popular books and articles, and by facilitating the studies of others through access to the sculptures themselves and to the Museum’s unique collection of books, photographs, manuscripts, drawings and plaster casts, along with the images and information published on the Museum’s website.
6.3 The Museum makes its collection accessible in many different ways, including lending objects to other museums both nationally and internationally. From 5th December 2014 to 28th January 2015 the sculpture of a river god identified as the Ilissos from the west pediment of the Parthenon was lent to the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, which was celebrating its 250th anniversary. The sculpture was seen by more than 139,000 Russian visitors.
6.4 The Museum continues to seek ways to improve its displays, both temporary and permanent. From 26th March to 5th July 2015 six sculptures from the Parthenon were moved within the British Museum from the Duveen Gallery to the Sainsbury Special Exhibitions Gallery, where they formed part of the temporary exhibition ‘Defining Beauty: the human body in Greek art.’ They were displayed with masterpieces borrowed internationally, creating striking juxtapositions that had never previously been possible, perhaps most notably that of the so-called Dionysus from the east pediment with the Belvedere Torso from the Vatican Museums.
7. Requests for the removal of the Parthenon Sculptures
7.1 The suggestion that the Parthenon sculptures be removed from the British Museum and sent to Athens is not new. Such a possibility was first mooted in Britain by Hugh Hammersley MP in the House of Commons debate of 7th June 1816. Calls from individual Greeks for their removal began in 1833. In 1965 the then Greek Minister of Culture went so far as to call for all Greek antiquities to be located in Greece. After the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, the Parthenon sculptures began to take on a new role as a symbol of the revived democracy and from 1982 were championed by the late Melina Mercouri as Greek Minister of Culture. Ever since, the removal of the Parthenon sculptures from London has been a feature of Greek Government policy, national and international.
7.2 At the 1982 UNESCO World Conference in Mexico on cultural policies at Ms Mercouri's instigation, a vote on a resolution calling for the return of the Parthenon sculptures and their reincorporation on the building was passed, although there were many abstentions, including Italy and France, and many absentees. In October 1983 a formal bilateral request for the sculptures was made by the Greek Government to the British Government - the first ever made. Following discussion with the Director and Trustees of the British Museum, this request was formally rejected by the British Government in April 1984. It was followed in September by a further submission of a claim through UNESCO, which was similarly rejected in 1985, after consultation with the British Museum. Successive British governments have held the position that this is a matter for the Museum's Trustees who are the legal owners of the Parthenon sculptures and who hold them in trust for the public.
7.3 In May 1997, following a further direct appeal by the Greek government, the then Secretary of State in the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Rt. Hon. Chris Smith MP, affirmed the Government's position that the issue was a matter for the Trustees of the British Museum and that the Government would not seek to have the sculptures sent to Greece. This is still the policy of the British Government.
7.4 In October 1999 the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons announced its intention to conduct an enquiry into the return of cultural property and the illicit antiquities trade. Following the submission of written evidence and visits to the British Museum, Greece and Italy, the Committee held oral sessions, at one of which the then Greek Foreign Minister, Mr. George Papandreou, presented the Greek position. The full report was published in March 2000 and the Select Committee, which had been interested to learn from the British Museum of the previous enquiry of 1816, advocated no change to the present status of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum.
7.5 This position has been reinforced by subsequent cross-party statements, by letters to the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon sculptures and MEPs from the former Minister for the Arts, the Rt. Hon Alan Howarth, and by the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, in an interview with the Greek newspaper To Bima (March 2001). It was restated by the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. David Cameron, in answer to a question in the House of Commons in June 2011.
7.6 In November 2002 Evangelos Venizelos, Greek Minister of Culture, came with a delegation to meet Sir John Boyd, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, and Neil MacGregor, the Director, to present for the first time a proposal that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum should be permanently removed to Athens to a new museum being built near the Acropolis. This proposal was elaborated at a UNESCO committee meeting in March 2003, linked with the Athens Olympics of August 2004. The proposal was declined because the Trustees of the British Museum took the view that the division of the surviving sculptures between London and Athens provided maximum benefit to world audiences.
7.7 The issue of the British Museum's ownership of the sculptures, which was long disputed by the Greek Government, was said in 2000 to have been put to one side. However, not only was a private legal action begun in the UK following a visit of the Greek Minister of Shipping, but in a letter to the Sunday Times of 17 August 2003 Mr Venizelos confirmed that the Greek Government did not acknowledge that the Trustees of the British Museum own the Parthenon sculptures in the Museum's collection. Subsequent Greek Governments have all taken the same view.
7.8 The new Acropolis Museum was opened in 2009. Representatives of the British Museum attended as guests to celebrate the successful opening and to congratulate colleagues on this significant achievement.
7.9 As part of the celebrations surrounding the opening, Parthenon fragments were lent to the Acropolis museum by the Archaeological Museum in Palermo and the Vatican Museums. These were subsequently returned, while a fragment was donated by the University of Heidelberg.
7.10 In October 2014 the London based barrister Ms Amal Clooney and colleagues made a high-profile visit to Athens to meet the then Prime Minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras, and the Culture Minister, Kostas Tassoulas, and to advise the Greek Government on legal avenues to further their claim to the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum. In 2015, Doughty Street Chambers presented a 150 page report to the Greek government advising them to take legal action. The report, compiled by Ms Amal Clooney, Geoffrey Robinson QC and Professor Norman Palmer QC, was published on the Guardian website. (However, after the Syriza party came to power in January 2015, the Culture Minister, Nikos Xydakis, announced in May 2015 that the Greek government would not be pursuing legal avenues, saying ‘The road to reclaiming the return of the sculptures is diplomatic and political.’
7.11 In August 2013, at the request of the Greek Government, the Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO wrote a letter to the Director of the British Museum, the UK Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, proposing a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, on the subject of the Parthenon Sculptures at the British Museum. The UK Government and the Trustees of the British Museum replied separately in 2015, each respectfully declining this proposal. The texts of the relevant letters are available here
8.1 The British Museum has a long-standing history of collaboration with Greek colleagues. Indeed, the modern understanding of the Parthenon and its sculptures is based on just this. The British Museum has regularly attended conferences held in Athens by the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments. There was also an exchange of much information on conservation issues at the time of the international conference on the 1938 cleaning in 1999. The Museum’s Department of Greece and Rome continues to host regular visits by the staff of the Acropolis restoration project, and staff of the Acropolis Museum have participated in the British Museum’s International Training Programme. In October 2011 the British Museum, the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis Restoration Service contributed to a joint seminar hosted by the British School at Athens to present and to share with the staff of the Acropolis Restoration Service its newly-developed technology for detecting colour on the Acropolis monuments.
8.2 Such collaboration also includes the British Museum’s repeated supply of casts to Athens. In 1844-46, a full set of plaster casts of the sculptures of the Parthenon was presented, together with casts of the Caryatid, architectural pieces from the Erechtheion and reliefs from the Temple of Athena Nike. Subsequently there were similar gifts, including in 1912 and in 1932. Between 1976 and 1978 various moulds and casts were provided to the Committee for the Conservation of Acropolis Monuments. Further requests have resulted in a series of gifts of casts by the Trustees of the British Museum, the latest in 2017, while facilities were provided for a Greek technician to make moulds from casts in the British Museum of the west frieze for the production of cement casts to go on the building.
8.3 The British Museum has advised on and in a number of ways assisted the current programme of conservation of Acropolis monuments. In 1985 it staged an exhibition of the work that had been undertaken up until then by the Acropolis Ephorate and the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments. In October 2010, as the project drew to a close, the Museum hosted a study day at which the Acropolis restoration team looked back over 35 years of conservation and shared some of the highlights with a London audience. This resulted in a joint publication published: Bouras, C., Ioannidou, M. and Jenkins, I. (eds) 2012 Acropolis Restored London, British Museum Research Paper no 187.
8.4 In addition to the on-going exchange of plaster casts, architectural historian of the Parthenon, Professor Manolis Korres, advised on the new model of the Acropolis made in Greece for the British Museum in 1998. The Museum holds the work of its colleagues in the Greek archaeological and restoration services in very high regard. It will continue to promote good relations with them, not least in continuing to support the scanning programme initiated by the Acropolis Museum in February 2013, when a team of archaeologists and technicians led by Professor D. Pandermalis were hosted in the Parthenon gallery to complete pilot scans.
8.5 The British Museum seeks to collaborate with its Greek colleagues in the widest possible manner by hosting and organising lectures in London and by inviting their participation in British Museum conferences.
9. Common misconceptions: the details
9.1 The British Museum calls the Parthenon sculptures the 'Elgin Marbles'
9.2.1 In the nineteenth century the term 'Elgin Marbles' was used for the contents of the Elgin Room, which originally housed the entire Elgin collection. It has also been used popularly to describe the Parthenon sculptures. The Museum’s preferred term is the Parthenon sculptures or, as carved on the wall of the Duveen Gallery, 'The sculptures of the Parthenon'.
9.2. The collection was "stolen" by Lord Elgin
9.2.1 Lord Elgin took up his post as Ambassador to the Sublime Porte (Istanbul) in 1799. Mainland Greece was then part of the Ottoman Empire and had been since the Ottomans invaded and took Athens in 1456. The Acropolis fell two years later.
9.2.2 Elgin was a man of the European Enlightenment and his actions must be judged according to the times he lived in. His intention was to improve the arts of Great Britain by making available casts and drawings of Greek monuments previously known only from drawings and engravings. To this end, he assembled a group of architects, painters, draughtsmen and moulders under the Italian G.B. Lusieri, which began work in Athens in 1800.
9.2.3 However, the continuing destruction of classical sculptures in Athens persuaded Elgin to remove for posterity what sculptures he could. In 1801 he was granted a firman (licence and letter of instruction) as a diplomatic gesture in gratitude for Britain's defeat of French forces in Egypt, then a dominion of the Ottoman Empire. The firman required the Turkish authorities in Athens not to hinder Elgin's employees in their drawing, modelling, erection of scaffolding and also allowed them to ‘take away any pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures’. The original firman has not been located in the Ottoman archives, but an Italian version is now in the British Museum. The presentation of the firman to the local authorities in Athens was accompanied by a designated official from Constantinople (a mubashir who out-ranked all the local officers) and he participated in its application. Lord Elgin's work was carried out openly and with the support of local officials both Turkish and Greek between 1801 and 1804. Importantly, a final firman was secured by Sir Robert Adair (Ambassador in Istanbul) in February 1810 from the same authority as the earlier firman. This instructed the authorities in Athens to allow the embarkation of all the remaining antiquities collected by Lord Elgin. The existence of this second firman makes it very clear that the Ottoman authorities (the legal authorities of the day) had indeed approved Elgin’s actions.
9.2.4 The opinion of the 1816 Select Committee of the House of Commons, after examining a series of witnesses, was that Elgin had acted with the permission of the Turkish authorities, and as a private individual (although it was suggested that such permission might only have been given to an Ambassador).
9.3 Lord Elgin ’bought’ the marbles, using ’bribery, pressure and corruption.’
9.3.1 The firman was granted in 1801 as a diplomatic gesture. The money expended by Elgin was largely on the salaries of his team, on transport and on the successful recovery of a consignment that sank off Kythera. Presents were given to the Turkish officials in Athens according to the custom of the times and their total value did not exceed £600. Elgin presented his full accounts to the Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816.
The firman was granted in 1801 as a diplomatic gesture. The money expended by Elgin was largely on the salaries of his team, on transport and on the recovery of a consignment that sank off Kythera. Presents were given to the Turkish officials in Athens according to the custom of the times and their total value did not exceed £600. Elgin presented his full accounts to the Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816.
9.4 ’More damage was done to the Parthenon in 1801-2 than in the previous 2,200 years’ (Melina Mercouri, The Times, 15.1.83)
9.4.1 This is untrue. The worst damage to the building itself, and to the sculptures that were still attached to it, occurred in 1687 when a Turkish powder-magazine in the temple exploded after a direct hit by the besieging Venetians. Previously the Parthenon was almost complete as a structure; afterwards it was a ruin.
9.4.2 Earlier significant damage to the structure resulted from the conversion of the temple into a Christian church about AD 500, including the construction of an apse at the east end. At this time the sculptures of the Parthenon suffered the worst calamity in their history. The whole of the middle section of the east pediment was removed, entailing the destruction of a dozen statues in all; part of the east frieze was taken down; and almost all of the metopes on the east, north and west sides of the Temple were deliberately defaced. Compared to this, only minimal damage was inflicted on the building by Elgin's agents in removing some of the remaining sculptures from further risk, and none of this was to the sculptures themselves.
9.4.3 The sculptures left behind by Elgin have greatly deteriorated since the early nineteenth century. Their ongoing deterioration was noticed as early as the 1870s, when a new set of casts was taken of the west frieze and was compared with that made in 1802 for Lord Elgin. Further concern at the ongoing damage was expressed when in the 1920s Walter Hege’s photographs of the west frieze were published. In the 1960s a new situation arose from the sudden and immense growth of the population of Athens which, along with industrialisation, brought about urban atmospheric pollution on a scale that corroded not only the exposed sculptures, but also the surface of the Parthenon itself. As Greek scholar Olga Palagia wrote in The Pediments of the Parthenon (Brill Leiden, 1993) after the sculptures that remained in the west pediment were lifted down in 1977, ’the industrial pollution of modern Athens had wreaked havoc upon their delicate surface’. Similar observations were made in a report by a Greek team of archaeologists and conservators following the eventual removal of the 14 blocks of the west frieze in 1993. As a result, all remaining sculptures have now been permanently removed from the building and are on display in the Acropolis Museum.
9.4.4 The stability of the Parthenon itself and the condition of all its parts were greatly endangered by the restoration work carried out by Nikolaos Balanos in the 1920s and 1930s. His method of stapling fragments together using iron bars that subsequently corroded and expanded, causing the marble to split and shatter, was especially damaging. This use of iron bars, unprotected by lead casings, ran counter not only to contemporary conservation practice but even to ancient Greek methods of construction. Balanos' work has in recent years been firmly condemned by Greek experts. For example, in 1994 Professor Charalambos Bouras of the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments described the work of Balanos, in Tournikiotis (ed.) The Parthenon and its Impact on Modern Times as ’truly catastrophic for the monuments" and a "terrible disaster’.
9.5 ‘Part of the collection was lost at sea’
There was a consignment of 17 crates on Elgin's ship Mentor when it sank off the island of Kythera. Every single crate, however, was salvaged at Elgin's expense and nothing was lost.
9.6 Lord Elgin sold the sculptures to the British Government for profit
9.6.1 Although from 1803 it had been Elgin's declared intention to present the sculptures to the nation, on his return to England in 1806, following imprisonment by the French, he was afflicted with severe financial problems. In 1810 he began informal negotiations with the Government for the sale of his collection. In 1815 the collection was eventually offered for £73,600 (representing his costs and 12 years' interest, but not the value of the sculptures) with the proposal that, if this were refused, Elgin would abide by the value to be determined by a special Committee of the House of Commons. The Committee held that the value of the collection was £35,000 - a valuation which Elgin had no option but to accept - and because of his financial problems the sale went through. The British Museum acquired the sculptures from Lord Elgin with a grant of funds agreed by Parliament.
9.7 "The marbles would look much better on the building for which they were intended"
9.7.1 It is now universally agreed that the remaining sculptures cannot be repositioned on the Parthenon itself. In spite of the current programme of careful conservation, the building will remain an unprotected ruin liable to damage both from earthquake and from environmental conditions.
9.7.2 The committee for Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments has long recognised that the sculptures on the Parthenon need protection from the elements and in particular from the polluted air of modern Athens. In 1983 the Committee announced its plans gradually to remove all sculpture from the building and to substitute casts.
9.7.3 In May 1989 Melina Mercouri announced an international competition for the siting and planning of a new museum to house the material from the Acropolis (similar competitions had been held in 1976 and 1979). In 1990 the first prize was awarded to the Italian architects Lucio Passarelli and Manfredi Nicoletti and a completion date of 1996 was announced. Argument between the political parties, however, overturned the result. Problems were also encountered in purchasing the required land. When archaeological excavation of the site eventually began, it revealed extremely important new information on the city of Athens in late antiquity.
9.7.4 In November 1999, the Greek Government announced a new architectural competition, with the intention of preserving the archaeological remains below the new museum. In late September 2001 the winner was announced (Tschumi and Photiades). Construction work began in 2002 and the new Acropolis Museum finally opened on 20th June 2009.
9.7.5 Small fragments of the Parthenon sculptures were sent from other museums to the Acropolis Museum to celebrate the opening. A fragment from Heidelberg was gifted to Greece, while one of the three fragments held by the Vatican Museums, along with the single fragment held in Palermo, were lent and subsequently returned. No loans were requested from the British Museum.
9.8 "Open an outpost in Athens - the sculptures can remain the property of the British Museum"
9.8.1 The idea that the British Museum could open an annex for the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens was first proposed to the Museum in November 2002 by the Greek Culture Minister, Mr Evangelos Venizelos (7.6 above), although the idea had been released to the press as early as July 1999. In the House of Commons on 29 October 2003 Estelle Morris, Minister for the Arts, confirmed on legal advice that it would not be possible for the British Museum to locate repositories for artefacts outside the UK without primary legislation and that the Government had no plans to introduce such legislation. Mr Venizelos confirmed in a letter to the Sunday Times on 17 August 2004 that the Greek Government does not recognise that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum are the property of the Trustees.
9.9 ‘We only ask for the Parthenon sculptures - they are a special case because they were made as integral pieces for a building that still survives and are not movable works of art that can be displayed anywhere’
9.9.1 In the past the Greek Government has sought the return of artefacts other than the Parthenon sculptures. In 1965, for example, the Greek Minister of Culture demanded the return of all Greek antiquities. There have also been calls from individual Greek politicians for the return of the Bassai sculptures in the British Museum, the Nike of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, both in the Louvre, and the Aigina sculptures in Munich. The Greek Government insists that the Parthenon sculptures are the only objects that it now seeks to claim, although local politicians sometimes make other demands.
9.9.2 The claim that the sculptures are a unique case because they were made for a specific building which still survives ignores many other examples of composite works of art made up of different pieces and created for specific locations which are now divided between museums and galleries all over Europe and the United States of America. These include not only other antiquities, but also the many medieval or renaissance altarpieces made for churches which, unlike the Parthenon, are still used for their original purpose.
9.10 ‘The best solution is to have all the sculptures back together as a coherent whole’
9.10.1 The Acropolis Museum is designed to bring together the remaining sculptures from the Parthenon within sight of the building on the Acropolis. However, only about half of the original sculptural decoration of the Parthenon survives from the ancient world. It is, therefore, impossible to recreate the building's ornamentation as a whole, since it has been irretrievably damaged since the seventeenth century, prior to Lord Elgin’s arrival. The display in the Acropolis Museum uses casts provided by the British Museum to represent all the Parthenon sculptures in London and elsewhere, thus allowing the visitor an overview of what survives and what has been lost.
9.10.2 The aim of representing all known sculptures of the Parthenon in one place can be achieved without their physical reunion. The British Museum has furnished Greek colleagues with a full set of casts of all the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum, while 3D scanning offers opportunities to reunify the sculptures virtually.
9.10.3 Removal of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens would serve to highlight above all their local and national meanings. While the sculptures are understandably of great importance to the national heritage and culture of Greece, their display in the British Museum alongside works of other great civilisations, ancient and modern, has made them part of a world story of human cultural achievement. By sharing sculptures roughly equally between the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum, different understandings of the same objects can co-exist and complement one another, thus enriching our experience of what the Parthenon and the ancient civilisation that created it may represent.
9.11 ’The marble sculptures of the Parthenon need to be seen in the bright light of Athens, not in gloomy London’
9.11.1 Transfer of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens will not restore them to the Parthenon in open air, but will remove them from one museum environment to another, both of which museums will rely upon a combination of natural and artificial light.
10. A summary of the general debate
10.1 Arguments used to support the removal of the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum to Athens are usually based on two main themes. The first seeks to discredit Lord Elgin and his actions, while the second promotes the Parthenon sculptures as a symbol of Greek identity.
10.2 In reply to the attacks on Lord Elgin, it cannot be stressed too much that without his intervention the sculptures of the Parthenon would be in a very sorry state and that the modern removal of the west pediment figures and the west frieze demonstrate this absolutely. Lord Elgin can only be judged by the standards of his own day. Those who attempt to bring Lord Byron's comments to bear should be reminded that he believed that the Parthenon should slowly melt into the landscape; he had no concept of preservation and himself brought Greek sculpture back to Britain for sale. Elgin’s actions withstood the close scrutiny of a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816.
10.3 The second position that seeks to promote the sculptures as a symbol of the modern Greek state is much more emotive. Some have attempted to counter this with arguments about the purely Athenian rather than Greek nature of the monument, while others have sought to query the racial mix of modern Greeks. For its part, the British Museum fully acknowledges the right of the modern state of Greece to claim its most spectacular ancient building as a symbol of national identity. However, the sculptures, and by extension the building itself, have over the last 200 years acquired a worldwide significance. This is now an essential element in their appreciation which is best ensured by the continued sharing of the Parthenon sculptures between museums in several different European countries.
10.4. It should be stressed that the acquisition by the British Museum of the Parthenon sculptures in 1816 helped to promote the surge of philhellenism in Britain that led to the involvement of European powers in the freeing of Greece and the ultimate creation in 1833 of the modern Greek state. The sculptures from the Parthenon now in the British Museum have been in London longer than the modern state of Greece has been in existence. As a result, they have become part of this country's heritage and have acted as a central focus for western European culture, and its admiration of ancient Greek culture. They have found their home in a Museum that was born out of the free spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment with an international culture transcending national boundaries.
10.5. In conclusion, it may be said that the claim for restitution revolves not around the question of the 'Elgin Marbles' but around the much larger issue of whether collections like that of the British Museum are seen to have a valid role to play in world culture. It calls into question the whole notion of a world collection in which visitors can learn about the cultures of the world, ancient and modern.
11. Select bibliography
On Elgin and the sculptures as cultural property:
T. Jenkins, ‘Keeping their Marbles: How the treasures of the past ended up in museums, and why they should stay.’ (Oxford University Press 2016)
Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Earl of Elgin's Collection of Sculpted Marbles (1816)
A.H. Smith, 'Lord Elgin and his Collection", Journal of Hellenic Studies 36 (1916) 163-372
William St. Clair, Lord Elgin and the Marbles (Oxford, 1967; 1983; 1998)
D. Williams ‘Of publick utility and publick property': Lord Elgin and the Parthenon Sculptures", in A. Tsingarida and D. Kurtz (eds.), Appropriating Antiquity: Saisir l'Antique (2002) 103-164.
D. Williams ‘Lord Elgin’s firman.’ Journal of the History of Collections (2009) 21 (1): 49-76
On the history and reception of the Parthenon and its sculptures
M. Beard, The Parthenon (Profile 2002)
I. Jenkins with Andrew Middleton, ‘Paint on the Parthenon sculptures’, The Annual of the British School at Athens 83 (1988) 183-207
I. Jenkins, ‘Acquisition and supply of casts of the Parthenon sculptures by the British Museum 1835-1939’ The Annual of the British School at Athens 85 (1990) 89-114
I. Jenkins, Archaeologists and Aesthetes in the sculpture galleries of the BritishMuseum (BM Press, 1992)
I. Jenkins, ‘John Henning’s Frieze for the Athenaeum’, in H.Tait and R. Walker (eds.) The Athenaeum Collection (The Athenaeum 2000) 149-156.
J. Rothenberg, ‘Descensus ad Terram’: The Acquisition and Reception of the
P. Tournikiotis (ed.), The Parthenon and its Impact in Modern Times (1994)
On the sculpture:
B. Cook, The ElginMarbles (1984)
I. Jenkins, The Parthenon Frieze (BM Press 1994)
I. Jenkins with I. Kerslake and D. Hubbard, The Parthenon Sculptures in the BritishMuseum (BM Press 2007)
J. Neils, The Parthenon Frieze (Cambridge 2001)
O. Palagia, The Pediments of the Parthenon (Brill 1993)
A. Mantis, ‘Parthenon central south metopes: new evidence’, in D. Buitron-Oliver (ed.) The Interpretation of Architectural Sculpture in Greeceand Rome. Studies in the History of Art 49 (Washington DC 1997) 67-81. Gives references to further articles by the same author.
K. Schwab, ‘Celebration of victory: the metopes of the Parthenon’, in J. Neils (ed.)
The Parthenon from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge 2005) 159-197
J. Neils (ed.) The Parthenon from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge 2005)
The British Museum