The British Museum made overtures to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece when one of its senior executives called for a “Parthenon partnership” with Athens, as reported today in The Sunday Times.
Jonathan Williams, the museum’s deputy director, said there might be a possibility for the ancient sculptures to return to Greece for the first time in more than 200 years.
“We are calling for an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece,” said Williams.
“I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.
“There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend. That’s what we do,” he said.
The Greeks have said they would be willing to loan other treasures to the British Museum in exchange.
In another interview with The Sunday Times Culture magazine, Williams said that “the sculptures are an integral part of the British Museum. They have been here for over 200 years,” but added, “we want to change the temperature of the debate”.
Lina Mendoni, the Greek culture minister, said last week, “the atmosphere has changed.”
And that with “goodwill”, a way forward could be found for both parties.
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said that Greece was open to negotiations but cautioned that “baby steps are not enough”.
Williams’s comments expand on George Osborne, the former chancellor and chairman of the museum’s trustees, who said last month that “there is a deal to be done”.
The Greek government first formally requested that all of the sculptures be returned permanently in 1983. The museum’s long-standing position is that it is happy to consider loans of objects to countries that do not claim ownership of them.
Athens has rejected suggestions that it would only borrow the marbles, which would implicitly acknowledge British ownership.
Williams’s comments may signify the hope of restoring the priceless sculptures to their home in Greece.
“In the difficult days we are living in, returning them would be an act of history,” said Nikolaos Stampolidis, director of the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
“It would be as if the British were restoring democracy itself. If you were the British prime minister, wouldn’t you like to be remembered as the giver, not lender?”
The Sunday Times, in quotations, referred to the Parthenon Marbles as “the Elgin Marbles.” The 2,450-year-old frieze was sawn off the Parthenon under the orders of Thomas Bruce, the seventh Lord Elgin, in 1801 with the permission of the occupying Turkish Ottoman colonial authorities.
It took Elgin from 1801 to 1804 to complete his disastrous ‘work’ on the Parthenon monument.
He sold the marbles to the UK government in 1816, and their ownership was transferred to the British Museum’s trustees.