Kimmelman on Drawing the Borders of Culture

Michael Kimmelman has a piece discussing the Parthenon sculptures and how it has influenced other repatriation debates.  He seems to favor a cosmopolitan approach, and borrows a good deal from James Cuno without mentioning him by name.  After all the mention of Cuno in some circles often shuts off any reasoned discourse.  And though he seems to be frustrated with his conclusion—that the Parthenon sculptures taken by Elgin should remain in London—he manages to make some thoughtful observations.  His best argument may be comparing the Euphronios Krater to the Parthenon sculptures:

And in the end patrimony is about ownership, often of objects that as in the marbles’ case, come from bygone civilizations. What, in this context, does it really mean to own culture?

Italy recently celebrated the return of a national treasure after the Metropolitan Museum gave back a sixth-century B.C. Greek krater by the painter Euphronius that tomb robbers dug up outside Rome during the 1970s. Stolen property is stolen property. But how curious that an ancient Greek vase, which centuries after it was made came into the possession of an Etruscan collector (a kind of ancient Elgin) living on what is now the outskirts of Rome, and then ended up buried for thousands of years below what became modern Italy, is today Italian cultural patrimony. By that definition, Elgin’s loot is arguably British patrimony.

Thought-provoking stuff, well worth a read. 

  1. Michael Kimmelman, Who Draws the Borders of Culture?, The New York Times, May 4, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/arts/09abroad.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all (last visited May 6, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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