Visiting the world’s great museums is generally an enjoyable experience: you see mummies, majestic temple facades, massive animal sculptures, etc. You cross entire continents in a few steps, blissfully ignorant – especially if you are a child, because no one ever told you – that many of the works you are admiring were in fact acquired or even stolen during colonial-type conflicts.
Such is the case for the Parthenon Marbles, once part of the famous temple atop the Acropolis in Athens (under the Ottoman yoke from the 15th to the 19th century), and now scattered throughout Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain. There is even a room of the British Museum long known as the “Elgin Marbles Room” in tribute to a Scottish aristocrat – Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and His Majesty’s ambassador to Constantinople in the early 18th century – whose team of painters, moulders and architects removed half of the Parthenon frieze at his insistence, along with one of the six caryatids of the nearby Erechtheion. Greece has since demanded the artefacts be returned.
Such is the singular story recounted in GIAB.
ACROPOLIS: TALES OF PLUNDER is a short conference that aims to look back on the removal of these Greek marbles through a slideshow lecture, along with excerpts from letters by contemporary protagonists. This insight will help to collectively formulate one of the burning questions of our day: what about giving back plundered artwork?
In November 2018, a “Report on the restitution of African heritage”, drafted by art historian Bénédicte Savoy and writer and professor of economics Felwine Sarr, was submitted to President Macron.
The report clearly states it aim: “Return works of art to reshape relationships”. When will we see a report on restitution of European works plundered by Europeans? When will these relationships be reshaped?Cover Photo: Archibald Archer, The Temporary Elgin Room in 1819 with portraits of staff, a trustee and visitors, 1819, oil on canvas, 94×132.7cm, The British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum