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GreekReporter.comGreek NewsBritish Museum "reasonably optimistic" on a Deal with Greece Over Parthenon Sculptures

British Museum “reasonably optimistic” on a Deal with Greece Over Parthenon Sculptures

The Parthenon ("Elgin") Marbles displayed in the British Museum, London.
George Osborn, the chair of the British Museum has hinted at a possible resolution to the Parthenon Sculptures dispute. Credit: Txllxt TxllxT via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The chair of the British Museum commented on Thursday that a deal over the Parthenon Sculptures could soon be reached between the museum and the Greek government.

The Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, mainly consist of 15 metopes, 17 pedimental figures, and 75 meters of the original 160-metre-long frieze that once decorated the outer walls of the Parthenon temple that stands atop the Acropolis in Athens.

For decades, a disagreement has existed between the Greek government and the British Museum over whether the sculptures should be returned to Greece. The Greek position has remained consistent that the Parthenon Sculptures were illegally taken from Greece when the Ottoman Empire occupied it.

British Museum chair discusses Parthenon Sculptures deal

George Osborne, the chair of the British Museum said that recent talks between the Greek government and the museum over the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures had been “constructive”.

“I think there is a way forward where these sculptures … could be seen both in London and in Athens, and that will be a win-win for Greece and for us,” Osborne told the BBC.

Osborne, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2010 to 2016 under David Cameron’s government, said that he was “reasonably optimistic” about the prospects of reaching an agreement.

He cautioned however that “it may well not come to anything.”

“It’s a very hard problem to solve but I think there is a way forward,” he concluded.

Parthenon Sculptures
Parthenon Sculptures on display at the British Museum. Credit: Alexander Gale / Greek Reporter

Ongoing negotiations

The official position of the British Museum has been that it will not break up its collection. However, pressure has been mounting on the institution to repatriate the sculptures, as other museums and cultural institutions have decided to return artifacts to their places of origin.

For example, in December last year, Pope Francis decided to send back to Greece the three fragments of the Parthenon Sculptures that the Vatican Museums have held for centuries.

Calls for repatriation have also been made within the United Kingdom itself. In November 2022, Ben Bradshaw, a former UK Secretary of Culture, backed a campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.

“It’s only right that the sculptures should be viewed as one piece of art in the Acropolis Museum [in Greece],” Bradshaw said.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that secret talks had taken place between senior British and Greek representatives on the issue. Two meetings between the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the British Museum Chair George Osborne were held at a Knightsbridge hotel in London in 2021 and 2022.

“Essentially, you had two rational people in a room without any of the baggage or history,” one British Museum insider told The Financial Times. “You should be able to come up with an arrangement where some of the sculptures at any one time are in London and some of them are in Athens.”

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