The excellent podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, (hosted by Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey) has a useful overview of the chronology of the taking of the Parthenon Sculptures by Lord Elgin and his agents. It’s a useful overview, and will likely be of particular use for students or newcomers to the long-running dispute. Useful details include Elgin’s bitter divorce, and the reminder that it was never a good thing to draw the ire of Lord Byron.
Best of luck to the teams competing this weekend at the national cultural heritage moot court competition in Chicago. The competition is run by DePaul’s moot court society and the Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Competition.
Given that 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to purchase the sculptures from Lord Elgin, it is apt that this years problems deals with two issues over whether a U.S. Court would have jurisdiction and should hear a suit between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum.
Co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition is the only moot court competition in the world that focuses exclusively on cultural heritage law issues. The Competition provides students with the opportunity to advocate in the nuanced landscape of cultural heritage, which addresses our past and our identity, and which has frequently become the subject of contentious legal debates and policies. This dynamic and growing legal field deals with the issues that arise as our society comes to appreciate the important symbolic, historical and emotional role that cultural heritage plays in our lives. It encompasses several disparate areas: protection of archaeological sites; preservation of historic structures and the built environment; preservation of and respect for both tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage; the international market in art works and antiquities; and recovery of stolen art works.
An Athenian cultural association has brought a claim before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg seeking the return of the Parthenon Sculptures held by the British Museum. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to purchase sculptures stripped from the Parthenon from Lord Elgin. At present most of the surviving sculptures rest in London at the British Museum.
Alexander Herman for the Institute of Art & Law blog summarizes the allegations:
The claim is aimed at the United Kingdom and alleges violations of the following rights under the European Convention on Human Rights:
cultural identity as an aspect of «the right to respect for private life» (Article 8 of ECHR);
cultural identity as an aspect of «the freedom of conscience» (Article 9 of ECHR);
the right to access cultural information, as an aspect of «the freedom of expression» (Article 10 of ECHR);
the «right to an effective remedy» (Article 13 of ECHR); and
the right to property, in the sense of integral public access to the monument (Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to ECHR).
The Athenians’ Association, which has existed since 1895, argues in a statement that it hopes to “raise international public awareness and to have justice rendered” and “hopes that the truth will prevail, that the monument will be restored and that history and tradition will shine forth for the good of mankind”.
I’ve laid out my argument as well, that cultural justice demands the reunification of this work of art.
- APPEAL OF THE «ATHENIANS’ ASSOCIATION» BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR THE ACROPOLIS SCULPTURES, Σύλλογος των Αθηναίων (Feb. 18, 2016), http://www.syllogostonathinaion.gr/prosfigi-gia-ta-glypta-tis-akropoleos/appeal-of-the-athenians-association-before-the-european-court-of-human-rights-for-the-acropolis-sculptures/.
Derek Fincham, The Parthenon Sculptures and Cultural Justice, 23 Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal 943 (2013).
|The New Acropolis Museum and the Parthenon|
Apologies for the lack of posting in recent weeks. I’ve been furiously finishing up some writing before the new semester really gets into full swing. If you, gentle reader, will forgive the shameless self-promotion, I’ll post a link to the work-in-progress titled “The Parthenon Sculptures and Cultural Justice“. Here’s the abstract:
From government and philosophy to art drama and culture, the ancient Athenians, as most everyone knows, gave future generations so much. Yet the pinnacle of their artistic achievement, the Parthenon, remains a damaged and incomplete work of art. 2012 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the last removal of works of art from the Parthenon. That taking was ordered by an English diplomat known to history as Lord Elgin, and it reminds us that cultures create lasting monuments. But not equally. Cultures which remove the artistic achievements of other nations have increasingly been confronted with uncomfortable questions about how these objects were acquired. Nations of origin are increasingly deciding to press claims for repatriation of works taken long ago. They proceed through history mindful of the irresistible genius of their forebears have created and are unwilling to cease their calls for return. The majority of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece now are currently on display in the British Museum in London. The Greek government and cultural heritage advocates, have been asking for reunification of these sculptures in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. Greece has offered a number of concessions, but the British Museum and the British Government have repeatedly refused to seriously discuss reunification. Mounting pressure on the British Museum, and the inescapable fact that the Parthenon was an ancient unified work of art both mean that the Parthenon marbles will either eventually be returned to Greece or subject to an endless repatriation debate. Here I offer a series of principles which the Greeks and the British Museum can take to jointly create a just return. Because the way the British Museum and Greece resolve this argument will have much to say for the future of the management of our collective cultural heritage.
I hope to find a good placement for the piece this fall submission cycle. As always, I’d be very grateful for any comments, criticisms or suggestions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The New Acropolis Museum is nearing completion (it may open in 2008), and it is attempting to make a powerful statement about where the parthenon/elgin marbles belong. The museum was due to be finished in time for the summer olympics in 2004, but a number of delays have pushed back completion. It seems some of the sculptures will be displayed, while the missing pieces will have plaster copies displayed behind a gray screen. Sharon Waxman visited the new museum this week and included some pictures, including this one. Here’s an excerpt:
[Dimitris] Pandermalis, [President of the new museum] intends to exhibit the frieze of the Parthenon, with the actual sculptures at the height shown here, and with plaster casts of the many friezes still at the British Museum behind a grey scrim. You can’t help thinking of that as another deliberate gesture, and as the scrim as a kind of shroud. Pandermalis, however, is anything but emotional. “It’s the pride of the nation,” he says quietly. “But I prefer to be silent on the issue.”
Interesting stuff, and I have no doubt the image of the parthenon in the distance, along with the shrouded missing pieces will act as a powerful symbol. Lee Rosenbaum also talks about a recent presentation Pandermalis gave in New York:
But during a recent slide presentation in New York—showing the current appearance of the new museum, as well as renderings of what it will look like when it opens (possibly in late 2008)—Dimitris Pandermalis…revealed a new approach to the problem of the missing marbles. Instead of an empty space, the slide showed an image of one of the Greek-owned marbles chockablock with a copy of the British-owned slab that would have originally been beside it on the façade of the Parthenon. Together, they completed the relief of a horse. So that there would be no confusion between the original and the copy, the latter was veiled by a scrim, making it appear like a “ghost,” as Pandermalis put it.
Whether this shifts the position of the British Museum will be interesting to see. I wonder if all of the missing pieces will be “Ghosted” or if its just the pieces held by the British Museum. After all, bits and pieces of the Acropolis are scattered all over Europe. Also, what is the rationale for only shading the marbles in the hands of others, what about the destruction when the Acropolis basically exploded when the Venetians landed a direct hit on the powder magazine in the 17th Century?
The TimesOnline had an article last week by Ben Macintyre tying in the recent repatriations and criminal trials in Italy and Greece to the Parthenon Marbles (or the Elgin Marbles as they are often referred to). Here’s an excerpt:
The return to Greece of a spectacular Macedonian gold wreath from the 4th century BC may lead to the repatriation of several looted artefacts worth millions of pounds.
Court cases in Italy and Greece are increasing the pressure on museums around the world and could lead to widespread changes in the handling of ancient treasures.
The campaign to return stolen work to its country of origin has emboldened Costas Karamanlis, the Prime Minister of Greece, to predict that Britain will soon be forced to surrender the Elgin Marbles. Also at stake are hundreds of statues, bronzes, engravings and other artworks from museums in Europe, the US and Japan.
At the heart of this revolution is the landmark case of the funerary wreath, one of the most beautiful surviving examples of ancient craftsmanship, which was looted from Greece more than ten years ago. A delicate spray of gold leaves interwoven with coloured glass paste, the wreath was probably designed as a funeral gift and made soon after the death of Alexander the Great.
It was put on display in Greece for the first time this week after a long campaign to persuade the J. Paul Getty Museum, in California, to return it to its homeland.
Mr Karamanlis welcomed its return as evidence that Britain would soon be forced to relinquish the Elgin Marbles, which were acquired by the British diplomat Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1810 and are currently housed in the British Museum. Britain has argued that they are better preserved in London (continue reading).
These repatriations are an important step, and are an example of stronger action by both Greece and Italy. However, the Vatican is expected to announce that it will refuse to return some fragments of the Parthenon. Parts of the Parthenon are spread all over Europe, including London, Rome, Copenhagen, Berlin.
I was at the British Museum a few weeks ago, and I was reminded how impressive the sculptures still are, even though they are broken and decontextualized. It would be very exciting to see all of the sculptures collected in Athens for display. However, people all over Europe can view parts of them at present, and there is a value in that as well I suppose. In the end, I seriously doubt whether the British Museum will ever relinquish the marbles.
The case for their return seems much different from the gold wreath which the Getty just returned and from the trial of Marion True. The argument for their return is only ethical or moral, there is no legal claim to them which Greece could hope to assert.
I missed this last week, but Greek Archbishop Christodoulos, in his first official visit to the Vatican, asked Pope Benedict XVI to return a piece of the Parthenon currently housed in the Vatican Museums. Benedict was initially confused by the request, perhaps because he was not aware of the piece. The Pope said he would consider the request. The push is part of an ongoing Greek effort to seek the return of the various pieces of the Parthenon. A comment on this blog last week suggested that Greece is trying to work slowly, and regain the smaller pieces first, from sources which might be more inclined to Greece’s requests. The idea makes sense, and is probably the best strategy for Greece to pursue. If they can gather momentum from all of these smaller bits and pieces, perhaps pressure will mount on the British Museum to return their Parthenon sculptures. It’s an interesting strategy, but I’m not sure anything can be done to persuade the British Museum to relinquish the marbles.
Earlier this week, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution tabled by Greece on “The Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to their Countries of Origin”. The resolution lacks any real bite, as most resolutions of the General Assembly are symbolic in nature. However, it does indicate continued pressure by the Greeks on foreign nations to seek the return of Greece’s cultural property. Most notably, the Parthenon sculptures, or Elgin marbles as they are often referred to in the UK.
The Greek culture minister, George Voulgarakis hailed the initiative as “an exceptionally important event”. Discussing the Parthenon Marbles, he said “The adoption of this resolution in itself signals and guides the countries to help so that the antiquities from all over the world will return to their homes. Greece will always seek and strive, in that direction, for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful place”.
A great deal has been written about the Parthenon Marbles, and whether they should remain in the UK, or return to Greece. One noted scholar in this field, John Merryman, has argued that the sculptures should stay in the British Museum, because they have been resting there peacefully for nearly 200 years. The debate is an emblematic one in many ways for the two primary schools of thought on cultural policy, the cultural nationalists and internationalists. This discussion by the Greek minister of culture seems an effort to try to continue to pressure the UK into returning the sculptures. Perhaps he is learning some lessons from the Italians and their aggressive recent efforts at repatriation, though I think forcing the British Museum to share some or all of the sculptures will truly be a herculean task.