World: Greece, U.K. spar over ownership of classic sculptures - PressFrom - US

WorldGreece, U.K. spar over ownership of classic sculptures

01:41  08 february  2019
01:41  08 february  2019 Source:

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Ancient Greek sculpture is the sculpture of ancient Greece . Modern scholarship identifies three major stages in monumental sculpture . At all periods there were great numbers of Greek terracotta

Greek –British relations are foreign relations between Greece and the United Kingdom. The two countries have been allies during the First World War and the Second World War, but also Greece received military and financial assistance from the United Kingdom during the Greek War of

Greece, U.K. spar over ownership of classic sculptures© (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) Sections of the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, are displayed at The British Museum in London.

LONDON — In 1801, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and the United Kingdom's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, decided to "renovate" the Parthenon in Athens. For the next 11 years, his crews stripped the classical Greek temple of half its ornamental marble sculptures and shipped them to Britain. In 1817, Lord Elgin sold the Parthenon Marbles to the British government, and they've been on permanent display ever since in London's British Museum.

Thus began an ongoing dispute between the museum and Greece over ownership of the 2,500-year-old marbles, today also referred to by some in the U.K. as the Elgin Marbles. Athens says they're stolen Greek property and wants them back. The British Museum says it legally owns them and is keeping them.

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Classical Greece was a period of around 200 years (5th and 4th centuries BC) in Greek culture. This Classical period saw the annexation of much of modern-day Greece by the Persian Empire and its

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The Anglo-Hellenic clash over culture has percolated into the headlines, thanks to an interview that Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum director, gave to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea in late January. Fischer reiterated the museum's boilerplate arguments for keeping them, but he also said that Elgin's transferring of the sculptures to London could be seen as a "creative act."

Fischer was trying to explain that the British Museum's display of the marbles places them in context with the global evolution of art, educating visitors and allowing them to see how classical Greek art influenced the art of other cultures throughout the centuries. But the quote generated a storm of negative blowback.

"It was an incredibly tone-deaf response," says Tatiana Flessas, an expert on cultural property and heritage law at the London School of Economics. Fischer's line of reasoning doesn't play well in Greece anyway, Flessas says. The Greeks don't see them as art objects, she explains. "The Greeks see them as their history."

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Classical sculpture refers loosely to the forms of sculpture from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, as well as the Hellenized and Romanized civilizations under their rule or influence from about 500 BC to around 200 AD.

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Elgin's removal and sale of the marbles was controversial even at the time, although Elgin claimed he had permission from the Ottoman government – which was then occupying Greece – to take them. In his early 19th century poem, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," Lord Byron referred to their removal as a defacement. Greece's efforts to retrieve them began in earnest in the 1980s, and since then it has pleaded unsuccessfully with several British governments to accede to its demands.

And while Greece has threatened to take legal action, so far it hasn't. That may be because it would likely lose, Flessas says. "From a strictly legal point of view, it would be difficult for Greece to make a case," explaining that the transfer was considered legal at the time and modern law cannot be retroactively applied. Moreover, the British Museum Act of 1963 does not allow the museum to rid itself of artifacts without government approval.

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Greek art and sculpture has had a profound effect for art throughout the ages. Many of the styles have been reproduced and copied by some of what the modern day audiences would class as some of the finest artists to have ever lived – a great example here is Michelangelo.

In the Classical period, Greek sculptors would break off the shackles of convention and achieve what no-one else had ever before attempted. They created life-size and life-like sculpture which glorified the human and especially nude male form.

The British Museum – along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris – is one of many so-called encyclopedic museums in major cities worldwide that display millennia-spanning works of art from disparate cultures. These institutions grew out of the Enlightenment and consider themselves custodians of great art that now belongs to humanity, not to any one country. To the British Museum's way of thinking, returning artworks to their countries of origin is giving in to nationalism.

Nevertheless, it's inarguable that their collections are filled with art plundered by 19th and 20th century imperial powers. "The encyclopedic bit is a red herring, designed to get around the awkward fact of the colonialist mentality that lay behind, and still lies behind, the acquisition and retention of alien artifacts," says Paul Cartledge, a University of Cambridge professor emeritus of Greek culture.

Since the end of the colonial era in the 1980s, a number of countries have sought, with mixed results, to force museums to repatriate some pieces of their art. For instance, Nigeria wants the British Museum and the Quai Branly Museum in Paris to return the hundreds of Benin Bronzes, metal sculptures and plaques they have. Meanwhile, Ethiopia wants its Maqdala treasures, a range of artwork and clothing, returned from the several museums that now possess them.

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Classical Sculpture . At the National Museum of Athens: The ancient Greek Artist invented his own self and became the creator of god and man alike During the classical period the Greek artists replaced the stiff vertical figures of the archaic period with three-dimensional snap shots of figures in action.

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But Greece's efforts to regain the marbles is the most high-profile case, one that's attracted the support of celebrities ranging from George Clooney to Bill Murray.

The museums fear that if they acquiesce to these demands, it would open the floodgates to more of them, eventually denuding them of their treasures.

"That's never going to happen," says Marlen Godwin, spokesperson for the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM). Many countries have neither the space nor the facilities to show all their works of art, and it's useful to them to have them on display in the world's top museums, Godwin says. "They're advertisements for those countries."

The British Museum has suggested it's willing to return some high-profile artifacts to their home countries on a long-term loan basis. Nigeria last year indicated it might be willing to take the bronzes on loan, but Greece and Ethiopia have refused loans, saying they shouldn't have to borrow what's theirs.

Repatriation is popular with the public. A 2017 YouGov poll found that 55 percent of Britons thought the marbles should go back to Greece. "But ultimately, it's a political issue," Flessas says. And demands for repatriation are resonating with some politicians.

Last November, a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron said that thousands of pieces of African art taken during colonial times but now in French museums should be returned to their home countries. And back in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, said that if he becomes prime minister, he'll dispatch the marbles back to Greece.

But Corbyn was merely restating a long-standing Labour Party pledge – one that two former Labour premiers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, opted to ignore once in power. So Flessas views Corbyn's comments with skepticism. "It's an open question whether he actually would."

Copyright 2019 U.S. News & World Report

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