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British Museum Exec Calls For “Parthenon Partnership” Over Elgin Marbles

parthenon marbles british museum
Credit: Marcio Cabral de Moura, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dr Jonathan Williams, deputy director of the British Museum, suggested a “Parthenon partnership” with Greece over the Elgin Marbles in an interview published on July 31st with The Sunday Times Culture magazine.

The statement is similar to the comments made by the Chair of the British Museum, George Osbourne, in June.

Less than a year ago, UNESCO urged the United Kingdom to review its position and enter into a discussion with Greece, rekindling the international debate around the long-running Greek plea for the repatriation of the Parthenon sculptures.

Pressure from public opinion, celebrities, politicians, and major UK media supporting the Greek claim has been constantly increasing in recent months.

The seventeen marble figures are part of the frieze that the great sculptor Phidias created to decorate the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis of Athens.

They have been in the possession of the British Museum since the early 19th century, when they were taken by Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

British Museum wants deal with Greece

“What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece,” Dr Williams stated. “I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”

The British Museum has not said it will hand the sculptures back, as Dr Williams argued they are an “absolutely integral part” of the collection.

However, he said they “want to change the temperature of the debate” and that all sides 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,” he added.

So far, the British Museum has been denying suggestions that the sculptures were hacked from the site of the temple even though Lord Elgin’s correspondence with his subordinates appears to support the Greek version of events, as so do modern-day classicists.

Parthenon fragment repatriated from Italy

The Fagan fragment, kept in Italy since the 18th century, became the first repatriated fragment of the Parthenon sculptures to be restored on the ancient Greek temple’s frieze in June.

The fragment, which was formerly housed in the Antonio Salinas Museum in Palermo, was returned to Athens in January to be showcased in the Acropolis Museum for eight years, but, in May, Italy decided to permanently return the piece to Greece.

A few days after the Fagan fragment was restored on the frieze, the Chair of the British Museum, George Osborne, told LBC Radio that Greece and the UK could agree on an arrangement whereby they both share the Parthenon Marbles.

Asked whether an arrangement would be made that would see the Parthenon Marbles displayed in both Athens and London, the former UK Chancellor said that he “cannot speak for all the trustees [of the British Museum], but [he] think[s] such an arrangement would work.”

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