The British Museum has insisted its contested ‘Elgin Marbles’ sculptures were rescued from the Greek Parthenon and not ruthlessly stolen as a row deepens with Greek authorities over their repatriation.
Ministers from Greece and the UK are set to hold talks over the future of the sculptures, which campaigners claim were violently seized from the Acropolis by henchmen working for British diplomat and art collector Lord Elgin in 1801.
Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni says Lord Elgin committed ‘blatant, serial theft’ by taking the marbles.
The 2,500-year-old Elgin Marbles are classed among the wonders of Ancient Greece and officials from Unesco have now waded in to discuss the quarrel
The sculptures are said to have been ruthlessly seized from the Parthenon in Athens in 1801 by henchmen working for British art collector Lord Elgin
Despite the controversial story of their acquisition, The British Museum’s stance is that the marbles were rescued from rubble outside the Parthenon and were not highly prized.
Deputy director of the British Museum Dr Jonathan Williams said: ‘[They were] in fact removed from the rubble around the Parthenon.
‘These objects were not all hacked from the building as has been suggested.’
The museum’s attempt to reject the historical account of the sculptures’ acquisition has been challenged by classicists.
The British Museum insists that the artworks were little more than rubble and taken from outside the Parthenon
After Lord Elgin acquired the marbles in 1801, the sculptures were bought by the British Museum in 1816
Professor Paul Cartledge, a renowned classicist from Cambridge, is among those calling for the Elgin Marbles’ return to Greece. He said: ‘Undoubtedly a lot of hacking went on.’
However, Prof Cartledge also stated that the manner in which the items were taken is morally irrelevant, adding: ‘They should all go back, however, obtained.’
Letters written to Lord Elgin by his subordinates in 1801 appear to support the Greek version of events, with a note from Giovanni Batista Lusieri confessing to his master that he ‘had been obliged to be a little barbarous’ in removing some sculptures from the Parthenon temple.
Using this as evidence, Greek Culture Minister Ms Mendoni added: ‘Greek authortiies and the international scientific community have demonstrated with unshakeable arguments the true events surrounding the removal of the Parthenon sculptures.
‘Lord Elgin used illicit and inequitable means to seize and export the Parthenon sculptures, without real legal permission to do so.’
After Lord Elgin acquired them in 1801, the sculptures were bought by the British Museum in 1816.
Unesco’s Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property has told Britain it needs to adopt a more cooperative approach to those demanding the sculptures are returned to Greece.