British Museum offers only to loan Athens Parthenon marbles to Greece

British Museum Deputy Director Jonathan Williams has proposed a “Parthenon partnership” to loan back to Greece the Parthenon Marbles that were stolen more than 200 years ago – on condition they are returned.

That was similar to earlier proposals that went nowhere, with Greece not wanting to cede ownership under such a deal, and he said vehemently that the Marbles will not be given to Greece permanently.

“We will loan the sculptures, as we do many other objects, to those who wish to display them to other public around the world, provided they will look after them and return them,” he said in an interview with the British Sunday Times.

“The sculptures are an absolutely integral part of the British Museum,” Williams added. “They have been here over 200 years.” But he added that, “We want to change the temperature of the debate,” to offer a loan only.

“We need to find a way forward around the cultural exchange of a level, intensity, and dynamism which has not been conceived hitherto. There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend. It is what we do,” Williams added.

Williams said he wants “An active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece. I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”

There was no initial indication whether the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would accept those terms although he earlier had offered to loan the British Museum other Greek treasures for the marbles.

The Parthenon Project campaign group said: “We need a forward-looking, mutually beneficial agreement, in the form of a cultural partnership between Greece and Britain. This would see the Parthenon Sculptures permanently return to their rightful home in Athens and other wonderful Greek objects displayed in Britain for the first time, making sure this exchange works for both sides.”

The sculptures – 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis – were taken by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th Century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Forbes magazine Guy Martin wrote that “The cultural administrators and ruling politicians of Greece, do not seem to have had the chance to hear from the museum nor to state their own preferences.”

He added that “There are many objects in the museum’s collection whose provenance is not (yet) under dispute, and there is certainly no suggestion in the Times article or elsewhere that the British Museum is anywhere close to having the crate-builders in or booking the ship,” for the marbles return.


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