Sir Hans Sloane kept inside his house a collection of nearly 71,000 objects without suffering Diogenes syndrome. He was obsessed with all objects that had accumulated in his life, were not lost and were preserved intact after his death. Finally Sloane reached an agreement with King George II, to who Sloane might had direct access, to take over the entire collection to the state in exchange for 20,000 pounds that would go into the hands of the ineffable Sloane’s descents. The British Museum was founded in 1753, once entered in the states of the British parliament as an entity, becoming the world’s first museum institution – http://www.britishmuseum.org – . Sir Sloane’s collection consisted mainly in books, natural specimens and antiquities, drawings, coins, and “ethnographic ” varied objects.
The British Museum (BM) was opened to the public in January 15th of 1759. In its very beginning was located in a mansion existing in seventeenth century named Montagu House in Bloomsbury, right in the place where the BM is located today. Admission was free, BM was known as an institution aimed to scholars and curious. With the exception of the two world wars, the BM has been open forever, gradually increasing the number of people who visit it each year, began with 5,000 visitors per year and today is visited by 6 million.
Many, many years ago, when we visited the BM for the first time, it came immediately to our mind the following question: should not be exposed here all these gems in their countries of origin? Answer: ” If they were in their home countries may not have been so well mantained, cared to be exhibited to the public as they are here.”This question repeatedly assaulted us each time visiting a museum of any other country. Egyptian mummies Why not saved in Egypt? , the Roman pottery in Italy and the remains of the Parthenon in Greece ? Because what worked mainly in the time when the British Museum was founded ( talk about museums ) and well into the twentieth century was about : ” I saw it first ” and so on , ” Your are not going to take it from here… ” .
But when we say “everything you see in this museum must be saved here because, if not, “Acropolis should been expoiled from everything” we are not really convinced. Let’s refresh the story in relation, for example, about all the treasures taken from the Parthenon that are kept in the BM today. All these treasures, we talked mainly of sculptures from the frieze of Phidias, were abused and nearly destroyed by the staff of the British Museum in 1930. A group of “restorers” decided by themselves, without consulting his superior , to use cement to “replace” the damage parts that the figures showed out. They also used cleaners to remove the “paint chips” that could be seen even in the sculptures . It was a case that, when the British public noticed this, ite raised a huge scandal, it can be justified as the BM keep safe the enormous artistic heritage of Greece had been previously removed by Lord Elgin initiative ( the eagle pulled ” Elgin marbles ” from Greece ), for their care and preservation, not by being stolen.
What happened after this? It happened something that can answer the question that we have formulated each time we visited a museum that “preserves ” cultural vestiges ” belonging ” to another country. Here is what happened with the subject of the Pathernon esculptures, the “Elgin Marbles” from the Acropolis:
In the UNESCO World Conference hosted in Mexico 1982 cultural policy, adopted a vote on a resolution calling for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece for his reinstatement ( nstallation) back in the building. In October 1983 a request was issued by the Greek government to remind the British government resolution that the sculptures should be returned. After consulting this, new Greek request with the director and trustees of the British Museum, this application was finally rejected by the British government formally in April 1984. The claim frustrated the Greek government, was followed the next month by a new claim by UNESCO , which was similarly rejected in 1985, after having consulted again with the British Museum. Successive British governments have washed their hands with the matter, arguing the position that this is exclusively a matter for the BM, stating that “they” are the legal owners of the sculptures of the Parthenon ( recordemso that Lord Elgin in his day bought them on the black market ).
In May 1997, following a direct appeal of the Greek government, the then Secretary of State at the Department of Culture and Sports British, Hon. Dr. Chris Smith, said that the government’s position was that ewverythiung related was on the hands of the the trustees of the British Museum, and that the government, as such, was not intended to have the sculptures. This remains the policy of the British government .
In October 1999, The Committee on Culture, Media and Sport of the House of Commons, announced its intention to carry out an investigation on the return of cultural property and illicit trade. Following the submission of written evidence and visits to the British Museum, the commission held oral sessions with representatives of Greece and Italy, in one of which the Greek Foreign Minister, Mr. George Papandreou, the Greek position was presented. The full report was published in March 2000 to the Committee , which had investigated the Museum for their practices since 181 , advocated so there was no change in the current situation of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum.
This position was reinforced by statements from various ruling parties, through letters to the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon sculptures and MEPs led by Dr. Alan Howarth and former Prime Minister, the Hon. Tony Blair, in an interview with the Greek newspaper Bima (March 2001 ).
In November 2002 , Evangelos Venizelos, Greek Minister of Culture, traveled to the UK with his delegation to meet with Sir John Boyd, president of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, director of BM at the time, to present for the first time a proposal that exposed Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were sent to Athens to be displayed in the new museum being built near the Acropolis. This proposal was developed in a committee meeting of UNESCO in March 2003, relating to its time with the Olympic Games in August 2004 in Athens. BM ignored the new application.
The issue of ownership of the sculptures in the British Museum sculptures, which for many years was denounced by the Greek Government has faded into nothingness. The last action was aware that not only was a letter to the Sunday Times of August 17, 2003, by Mr. Venizelos, saying that the Greek government does not recognize the competence of the directors of the British Museum for refusing to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Currently both parties are friends ( ? )… We do not understand anything about this.
In short, no matter what UNESCO decided. Governments finally get the estate stay just where you are, do not move, no matter how legitimate it is the request for return. It did not seem fair or form or in the method, we now have information of how these things work. Lobbies are everywhere, including those who understand culture as a business.
The rest of what was removed from the Acropolis, are “saved” at:
Remains of the metopes (especially belonging to the east, north and west of the Parthenon), friezes (especially north and west) and pediments, sculptures that were in the building and that are being installed in the New Acropolis Museum.
Paris, Musée du Louvre
A frieze slab , with a plaque, fragments of the frieze and the metopes, the pediments head.
Copenhagen, National Museum
A metope .
A plaque was sent to the British Museum from there.
Fragments of metopes, friezes and pediments .
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Three fragments frieze.
Munich , Glyptothek