Parthenon Marbles: the case for return
Argument 1: legalityThis argument is based on the assertion that Lord Elgin committed an illegal act when he removed the sculptures from the Parthenon and exported them to Britain in the early 1800s. At the time Greece was under the control of the Ottoman Empire which was headquartered in Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey). Elgin requested and received a firman, official permission from the Ottoman authorities, to visit the Parthenon. Although the original firman has been lost, a copy exists which states that Elgin was allowed (emphasis added):
- to enter freely within the walls of the Citadel, and to draw and model with plaster the Ancient Temples there.
- to erect scaffolding and to dig where they may wish to discover the ancient foundations.
- liberty to take away any sculptures or inscriptions which do not interfere with the works or walls of the Citadel.
Argument 2: context and appreciation
The writer Edward Daniel Clarke, who was actually present when portions of the sculptures were taken from the Parthenon, said that the temple had sustained great injury and that he saw no need for the authentic sculptures to have been removed when casts of the artworks had already been made. Britain could have enjoyed both the accurate casts at home and gone to see the originals in their proper place on the Parthenon. The Greeks, still proud of their missing masterpieces, have recently built a new museum in the shadow of the Acropolis to house the Parthenon Sculptures should they be returned. They argue that British have not cared for the marbles properly. Indeed, in the late 1930s it is known that the British Museum scraped the Parthenon Marbles with a wire brush to make them look ‘whiter’, action that removed most of the fine details of the pieces including such detail as muscles and sinews. In other words they damaged the sculptures beyond repair. This argument, then, holds that the Parthenon Sculptures are strange and out of place in the British Museum. They were designed to be in Athens at the Parthenon: displayed on high in the sunshine. To display them low to the ground, ‘inside out’, and in a UK museum means that no one is able to truly appreciate them in their proper context; everyone misses out on an opportunity to better understand Classical Greek art and culture. The sculptures are part of a larger work of art, and to keep these Marbles away from their original location on the facade of the Parthenon is to demean their value as art and historical objects.Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Argument 3: cultural heritagePerhaps the most impassioned argument for the return of the Parthenon sculptures is that the pieces represent a vital and central part of Greek cultural heritage. That they are the most prominent and symbolic link that modern Athens and modern Athenians have with the greatness of their ancient ancestors. The Parthenon Sculptures were made in Greece by Greeks to honour the glory of Greece. They represent the cultural identity of millions of people. Greece is the sculptures’ home and they belong at home.
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Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime
Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime
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