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Letter by Philip Hunt describing the removal of sculptures from the Parthenon temple

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Formerly in the possession of the Hunt family; purchased from Mr. William St. Clair with the aid of the Pilgrim Trust, The Friends of the National Libraries and the Society of the Dilettanti.

 

GR 2006,0523.1.2

Room 18: Greece: Parthenon

    Letter by Philip Hunt describing the removal of sculptures from the Parthenon temple

    AD 1801
    Athens, Greece

    This document is a copy made by the Reverend Philip Hunt of a letter he wrote to his patron, the Earl of Upper Ossory of Ampthill Park, in August 1801. Hunt was then chaplain at the British embassy in Constantinople (now Istanbul), capital of the Ottoman Empire, which at the time, and for most of the previous 350 years, ruled Greece.

    In his letter he describes the situation in Athens when he arrived with the Ottoman official who carried the firman (letter of permission) issued to the British Ambassador, Lord Elgin, granting permission to remove ‘any pieces of stone with inscriptions, and figures’ from the Acropolis. He notes the difficulties in getting access to the Acropolis and laments the damage being done to the sculptures of the Parthenon. He describes how Lord Elgin’s firman secured access and how he was able to remove two of the metope sculptures from the temple. He ends with a description of the places in Greece he visited and outlines his forthcoming tour of the Peloponnese.

    In 1799, at the age of 27, Philip Hunt was appointed chaplain to Lord Elgin’s embassy in Constantinople. He was an energetic and highly intelligent man and, as well as the usual duties of a personal chaplain, he became involved in diplomatic affairs and the purpose of his second trip to Greece was specifically to gather intelligence on the country’s readiness to meet an expected French attack and to foster goodwill. This mission was very important for both the Ottoman authorities and for the British Foreign Office.

    While in Athens, it was Hunt’s decision to begin the removal of sculptures from the Parthenon. He seems to have been motivated by the destruction of the ancient material. In his report of 31 July to Lord Elgin he sets out the bleak choice: ‘It would be well, my Lord, to ask for all that is left, or else to do all that is possible to prevent their going on in this fashion’. Hunt was not in a position to prevent the destruction and so he began the removals.

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    On display: Room 18: Greece: Parthenon