The British Museum has made overtures to returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece when one of its most senior executives called for a “Parthenon partnership” with Athens, as reported in The Sunday Times.
Jonathan Williams, the museum’s deputy director said said that there may be an opportunity for the ancient sculptures, to go back to Greece for the first time in more than 200 years. The world’s longest-running cultural dispute may ease.
“What we are calling for is 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 treasures to the British Museum in exchange.
In another interview with The Sunday Times Culture magazine, Williams said that “the sculptures are an absolutely 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 those of 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 made a formal request for all of the sculptures to 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 borrow the marbles, as that would implicitly acknowledge British ownership of them.
Williams’s comments may fuel Greek hopes of restoring the priceless sculptures to their home.
“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.
He sold the marbles to the UK government in 1816, and their ownership transferred to the British Museum’s trustees.