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British Museum to Loan Ancient Greek Meidias Hydria to Greece

Meidias Hydria, ancient Greek
The British Museum plans to lend the ancient Greek Meidias Hydria to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece. Credit: wikimedia commons / ArchaiOptix CC BY 4.0

The British Museum has decided to loan the Meidias Hydria, an ancient Greek vase dating back to 420 BC, to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece. This move marks the first time in 250 years that the vase, a masterpiece by the Meidias artist, has left the confines of the British Museum.

The Meidias Hydria, a 50cm high painted water vase adorned with mythological scenes, includes depictions of Heracles (Hercules). The masterpiece of ancient art was acquired by the British Museum in 1772 after being purchased in the 1760s by William Hamilton, the British envoy to Naples, Italy.

The vase has traditionally been on display at the British Museum, and its temporary loan is a part of the ongoing partnership between the British Museum and Greek museums. The exhibition at the Acropolis Museum, titled “Meanings: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today,” will run from December 4 to April 14, 2024.

Following its presentation in Athens, the Meidias Hydria is scheduled to be displayed in Paris at the Musée du Louvre’s exhibition, “Olympism: A modern invention, an ancient legacy,” from April 24 to September 16, 2024.

British Museum on Potential Agreement with Greece

The vase loan happens while the chairman of the British Museum, George Osborne, expressed optimism about a potential agreement with Greece. Speaking at the annual trustees’ dinner in the Duveen Gallery, he emphasized the museum’s willingness to consider a temporary return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens in exchange for unseen ancient artifacts in the UK. He urged for a practical and rational partnership with Greece that doesn’t require relinquishing claims or altering laws.

Previously, Osborne highlighted the controversial nature of the sculptures and their significance in portraying ancient Athens’ history at the British Museum. The chairman acknowledged the longstanding standoff with Greece and lamented the disparity in engagement with Greek museums compared to other countries.

Thefts From the Museum Raised Concerns

The high-profile theft of thousands of items from the British Museum, coupled with the revelation that around 2,000 artifacts have gone missing, has heightened scrutiny on the safety and management of cultural treasures. Osborne clarified that the missing pieces primarily consist of small items like jewelry, gems, and bits of gold not on public display. The uncertainty surrounding the exact number of disappeared artifacts has raised questions about internal museum practices.

As the call for the Parthenon Marbles’ permanent return intensifies, Greece’s Culture Minister, Lina Mendoni, emphasized the profound significance of safeguarding cultural heritage. She noted that the loss or theft of objects from a museum’s collection not only poses moral and criminal concerns but also prompts a critical examination of the institution’s credibility.

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