British Museum boss ‘rules out’ returning the ‘stolen’ Elgin Marbles to Greece as he says there is an ‘obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety’
- The ancient marble sculptures were brought to Britain in the early 19th century
- Statues were passed to the British Museum where they are prized exhibits
- The museum’s director said he believes they aren’t legally owned by Greece
The director of the British Museum has appeared to rule out returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
The 2,500 year-old marble sculptures were brought over to Britain in the early 19th century and bought by the Government who passed them on to the British Museum where they remain one of the most prized exhibits.
Debate over where the sculptures should be located has raged for decades.
Director of the museum Hartwig Fischer said the whole collection should remain together
They were taken from the Parthenon temple in Athens from 1801 to 1812, and preserved by the British Museum since then.
On 20th of June 2009 the Acropolis Museum was opened to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, but it still doesn’t have the Elgin Marbles.
In an interview with Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said: ‘The Trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection.’
The statues were taken from the top of the Parthenon temple in Athens from 1801 to 1812
The Elgin Parthenon Marbles at The British Museum where they’ve been since the 18th century
The director of the British Museum (Elgin Marbles pictured inside) said he understands Greek frustration on the fact that the pieces of art remain in the UK, despite being taken from Greece
Asked if he thinks the Greeks are right to want the Parthenon sculptures back, he told the newspaper: ‘I can certainly understand that the Greeks have a special and passionate relationship with this part of their cultural heritage.
‘Yes, I understand that there is a desire to see all of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens.’
Asked about Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece if he became prime minister, Mr Fischer told Ta Nea: ‘I think that this is Mr Corbyn’s personal view on the question, that you take note of.
‘Obviously, that is not the stance and the view of the Trustees of the Museum.’
Mr Fischer was asked if he would accept that Greece is the legal owner of the Parthenon Sculptures, and he replied: ‘No, I would not. The objects that are part of the collection of the British Museum are in the fiduciary ownership of the Trustees of the Museum.’
The Acropolis Museum was opened to house every artifact found on the historic site
The marbles were removed from the ruins of the Parthenon temple in Athens and shipped to England between 1801 and 1805
Lord Charles Bruce said the Elgin Marbles, now on display in the British Museum, were handed by a Turkish sultan to his forebear Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin
Many Parthenon sculptures have been housed in the British Museum since 1816 after they were bought by the government from Lord Elgin
In a statement, the British Museum said: ‘Hartwig Fischer was stating the long-standing position of the British Museum. We believe there is a great public benefit in being able to see these wonderful objects in the context of a world collection.
‘The museum lends extensively across the world, and some loans are long-term but not indefinite.’
Back in June in an interview with the same Greek daily, Corbyn reiterated his position that the ‘Parthenon sculptures belong to Greece’.
‘They were made in Greece and have been there for many centuries until Lord Elgin took them,’ he said.
‘As with everything stolen or removed from a country that was in the possession or colony – including objects looted from other countries in the past – we should also begin constructive talks with the Greek government on the return of the sculptures.’
But the Elgin Marbles were actually a gift, according to a descendant of the man who brought them to UK shores.
Lord Charles Bruce said the friezes, now on display in the British Museum, were handed by a Turkish sultan to his forebear Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin.
In return, the earl gave him a chandelier – and the smallpox vaccine.
A LONG-RUNNING HISTORICAL DISPUTE: WHAT ARE THE ELGIN MARBLES?
The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants.
The 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, removed the Parthenon Marble pieces from the Acropolis in Athens while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.
In 1801, the Earl claimed to have obtained a permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon.
Elgin Marbles: The 5th century BC statues were removed from the Acropolis in Athens and bought by the British government in 1816
As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required permission to enter the site.
His agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.
The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.
The sculptures were shipped to Britain, but in Greece, the Scots aristocrat was accused of looting and vandalism.
They were bought by the British Government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum. They still stand on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.
Greece has sought their return from the British Museum through the years, to no avail.
The authenticity of Elgin’s permit to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon has been widely disputed, especially as the original document has been lost. Many claim it was not legal.
However, others argue that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognisable.