After decades of refusal, the British Museum has taken a newfound conciliatory attitude over the Parthenon Marbles. The museum’s deputy director, Jonathan Williams, has indicated that a cultural exchange with Greece could be forthcoming.
The Museum had previously acted with an uncompromising stance over whether the marbles ought to be returned to Greece, persistently referring to a 1963 act of parliament stating that ancient objects displayed in the museum since the 19th Century may not be returned to their place of origin.
On behalf of the British Museum, Williams recently said, “What we are calling for is 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. 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.”
“The sculptures are an absolutely integral part of the British Museum,” he added. “They have been here over 200 years. 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.”
Returning the marbles to Greece may, in turn, lend some of their historical artefacts to the UK. Recently a fragment of the Parthenon was returned to Greece from the Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Sicily. This was also part of an exchange agreement, similar to the one we may find soon in the UK.
A spokesperson for the exchange agreement project 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.”