What’s going on with the Parthenon Marbles?

The Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum
The Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person asking this right now.

When the British Museum announced their controversial decision to loan a piece of the Parthenon sculptures to the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, I’m certain I wasn’t alone in thinking “What the what?”.

Yes, it was a generous gesture to an “almost twin” museum, as Neil McGregor described the Russian institution, but surely such a gesture would be inflammatory on so many levels. Sources have reported that some Greek Museums are, understandably, angered by this.

The blog post the British Museum director wrote on the decision was a fascinating read, especially this quote

So, when our colleagues at the Hermitage asked if we might also make an important loan to celebrate their 250th anniversary, the Trustees immediately answered yes.

-Neil McGregor

Yes, this is old news, and Ilissos will be back at the BM before we know it, so you may be wondering why I’m only writing about this now.  The immediateness of the “yes” answer is intriguing. Officially, the Greek Government has not asked for a loan of the sculptures according to the British Museum’s Trustees,  I wonder, if they did, what would the answer be…

I digress.

Yesterday, 8th January, the British Museum broke the news of their next Big Exhibition: Defining Beauty which explores Greek Sculpture. Lovely. The British Museum ‘do’ the ancient Greeks really well, even if some of the galleries could do with a face-lift…

They also tweeted this:

Now, entrance to the exhibition comes with a price-tag of £16.50 for your average museum visitor. In case you didn’t know, the State Hermitage isn’t free either (tickets start at 400 roubles, which is about £4.20). It makes me wonder, why are pay-walls suddenly popping up between people and the Parthenon Marbles after all these years?

In point 6.1 of The Parthenon Sculptures: Facts and Figures the museum says, and I quote “The British Museum aims to make the sculptures from the Parthenon accessible to and understood by the widest possible audience.” So although this can help explain the loan to Russia, it doesn’t really explain why six pieces are going behind an exhibition pay-wall, to reach the widest possible audience, a ticket barrier is the last thing you need.

Although the artefacts are the property of the British Museum, and as such the museum can display them however they like, it feels like these are deliberate moves in part of a bigger game, but to what end? Is this a last hurrah before a landmark move happens? Or is it something else?

Honestly, I have no idea.

You can always read the official British Museum statement on the Parthenon Marbles  and come to your own conclusions. This recent behaviour has struck me as a little bit odd, and I was wondering of anyone else felt the same way.

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