British Museum director: we will not return the Elgin marbles to Greece. Their removal was a creative act


The director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fischer, gives an interview in which he opposes the return of the Elgin marbles to Greece.

The Elgin Marbles, or the collection of works (sculptures, inscriptions, elements of architecture) that were removed in the early 19th century from the Parthenon in Athens at the behest of Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin (the British diplomat who, in carrying out his action, obtained the permission of the Ottoman Empire on which Greece was dependent at the time), have long been at the center of numerous debates about whether they should be returned to their country of origin. The debate has not yet closed, but in recent hours the position of the British Museum, where the marbles are stored, was reiterated by its director, Hartwig Fischer, in an interview with the Greek daily Ta Nea.

Fischer, in particular, said that when a cultural asset is moved inside a museum, its context changes, and that this kind of removal “also represents a creative act.” While saying that he understands Greece’s claims, Fischer explained that “the Parthenon sculptures in Athens are exhibited, at the British Museum, in a specific context,” that removal is also part of the history of objects, and that for that matter “even at the Acropolis Museum there are works that are no longer in their original context: nothing that you admire at the Acropolis Museum was created for the Acropolis Museum.” In the latter case, according to Fischer, “the sculptures are close to the original environment, but they have moved away from it and through this act have been transformed.” In addition, Fischer stressed that no one on the British Museum staff is in favor of returning the Elgin marbles to Greece, and that there are currently no ongoing negotiations between the museum and Greek authorities for a possible return. The journalist who conducted the interview, Giannis Andritsopoulos, then asked Fischer if he had visited the Parthenon, and asked him if he did not feel that the monument is missing something: “I think that everywhere in the world something is missing,” Fischer replied, “so is the human being.”

The official position of the Greek government is, however, diametrically opposed to that of the British Museum, since Greece considers itself the rightful owner of the Elgin Marbles, and has reiterated its position even in the last few hours. It should be noted, however, that many in Britain are in favor of returning the marbles: among the personalities pressing for a return of the works to Greece is Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he certainly does not convince Fischer (“Corbyn’s is his personal opinion, which we take into account,” Fischer said. “But it is not the position of the British Museum committee.”). In the meantime, Fischer’s claims have begun to stir up discussion among insiders and others.

Pictured: Hartwig Fischer

British Museum director: we will not return the Elgin marbles to Greece. Their removal was a creative act
British Museum director: we will not return the Elgin marbles to Greece. Their removal was a creative act


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