To: The Secretary, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, House of Commons
From: The British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
Subject: Submission on The Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles for consideration by the Select Committee in its Inquiry into Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade
The British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles submits evidence in relation to Other Return Issues. It is specifically concerned with the return of the Parthenon sculptures, now in the British Museum, to Athens and the museum that will be erected there to exhibit all the artefacts belonging to the Parthenon that are not still in the structure. We will make observations in this context under the heads listed.
The British Committee was formed in 1983. Here follows a list of its current members with brief notes on their areas of expertise:
Mr Graham Binns MA (Oxon) (Chairman), Fulbright Scholar to USA. One-time Assistant Regional Director Arts Council of Great Britain and Broadcasting and Communications Executive.
Mr Christopher Price MA (Oxon) (Deputy Chairman), former Chairman of the Select Committee for Culture, Science and the Arts. Chairman of Yorkshire Arts.
Mrs Eleni Cubitt (Secretary), film and documentary producer. Cultural and historical events organizer.
Sir Kenneth Alexander , Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; former Chancellor, University of Aberdeen; Vice-chancellor, University of Strathclyde; Trustee, Royal Museum of Scotland.
Professor Anthony Snodgrass , the Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge University.
Professor A. A. M. Bryer , Emeritus Professor of Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham. Former Chairman of the British National Committee of the International Byzantine Association. Member of the Council of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara. Vice-president of the National Trust in Greece.
Professor Judith Herrin , Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Kings College, London. Formerly Stanley J. Seeger Professor of Byzantine History, Princeton, United States of America.
Professor Paul Cartledge , Professor of Greek History, Cambridge University. Fellow and Director of Studies, Clare College.
Professor Oliver Taplin FBA , Professor of Classical Languages and Literature, Oxford University.
Mr Keith Hunter OBE , formerly British Council Directory, Italy. Trustee, British School at Rome.
Ms Jane Shallice , educationalist and researcher.
The Committee proposes that serious discussions should be instituted between the British and Greek governments. The question of ownership of the Parthenon sculptures should be set aside while consideration is given to moving the displaced pieces to Athens, to be housed in a specially designed museum which would incorporate all the artefacts from the Parthenon that are not now part of the edifice. The object would be to restore the integrity of the frieze, metopes, and pediments by bringing them together in one place, as near to the Parthenon itself as practicable. An appropriate occasion for announcing the opening of such discussions would be at the Olympic Games in Athens, AD 2004.
The Case for the Return
Nevertheless, the British Museum is in possession of almost half of the sculpted masonry that was once an integral part of a structure that is itself unparalleled in the history of architecture. Whatever arguments were made in 1816 for keeping such significant parts of the monument in Britain, while Greece was a subject province of the Ottoman Empire, no longer apply. If the Parthenon itself and the British Museum's collection of Parthenon sculptures lay within the same state boundaries, but 2000 miles apart, there is no question but that they would not be brought together. (2)
The British Museum's position in this matter is based on ownership. We urge that it is of greater international importance to consider the unity of the monument itself. The Parthenon cannot be reconstituted. But it is being conserved to the most exacting international standards, and a new museum is to be erected on the site already announced, in the vicinity of the Acropolis. We believe that the British Museum should offer constructive co-operation and collaboration to the Greek authorities and identify itself with the reunification of the artefacts belonging to the Parthenon. All this, of course, is subject to the satisfactory completion of the new museum. (3)
To date the British Museum and the British Government have made no gesture toward the conservation of the Parthenon, nor toward the project of the new museum. What observations have been made have generally been of an unsympathetic or hostile nature. We propose a fresh approach in which the British Museum offers itself as part of the project to conserve the site and create a new museum. If the Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg can, for different reasons, reach out to Somerset House in London and to Amsterdam, and the Guggenheim from New York to Bilbao and Venice, the British Museum should be able, in the interests of conservation, to extend itself in a truly international style beyond the confines of Bloomsbury.
So far, the opposite has been the case. In reassembling and stabilizing the Parthenon, the Greek conservators need a section, or 'drum', in order to complete a structural column of the building. That 'drum', a block of fluted stone, was removed by Elgin's men. It is in the British Museum. The Greek request was refused. This would seem to indicate neither interest nor concern in the monument of which all these marble blocks are a part. In a further instance of hostility, the British Museum has attempted to malign Greek competence in conservation techniques -an attempt that has rebounded to the discredit of the museum (see Appendix E).
The case of the column 'drum' (3.3 above) is itself sufficient to demonstrate that the relationship between the British Museum and the Greek archaeological service has become unproductive - which is why we are proposing a new beginning. If it can be agreed that everyone's first consideration must be what is best for the site and the monument, for the proper understanding of that monument, and for scholarship, then a genuine effort must be made to reconcile all the real interests concerned, while putting aside those that are merely nationalistic, British or Greek.
Policies and procedures
Guidance and advice
1. See Appendix A: "Was the Removal of the Parthenon Marbles Legal?"
by Prof. V. Demetriades.
Appendix A: "Was the Removal of the Parthenon Marbles Legal?" by Prof. V. Demetriades.
Appendix B: "The integrity of the monument and the advantages of reuniting the London and Athens Marbles" by Professor Anthony Snodgrass, Cambridge University.
Appendix C: "A brief history of British concern" by Graham Binns
Appendix D: "Towards a new design for a new museum" by Sotiris Mousouris, Preisdent, Organisation for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum.
Appendix E: The British Museum's attempt to downgrade Greek competence in conservation projects" by Graham Binns.
These appendices can also be found in the Documents section of the menu.