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Sculpture: Elgin Marbles Essay

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Updated: Mar 23rd, 2020

Elgin Marbles are well-known sculptures currently kept at the British Museum. The sculptures were originally retrieved from the Parthenon in Athens. The Parthenon is an ancient Greek temple that initially was built to serve as a place to worship the Greek goddess Athena.

This temple was built about 2500 years ago, and ever since that time it had been constantly in use, first by the worshipers of Athena, then, by Christians, as the Parthenon was turned into the Virgin Mary church, after that, it had been a mosque, since Athens used to be a part of the Ottoman Empire for 350 years (The Parthenon Sculptures par. 1). Ruined by an explosion of gunpowder at the end of 1600s, the Parthenon remained an archeological site ever since.

In 1805, Lord Elgin, a well-known appreciator of Ancient Greek art, visited the Parthenon and took around half of the remaining sculptures from the ruined building. Lord Elgin did that with the permission of the Ottoman leaders of Athens, so the retrieval was not theft or an act of vandalism (The Parthenon Marbles par. 3). Yet today, just like centuries ago when the sculptures were first brought to Britain, the actions of Lord Elgin are widely criticized and argued about (Beard par. 3).

The main issue discussed by the supporters and the protesters of the deed of Lord Elgin is whether the marbles should stay in the British Museum or be sent back to their motherland in Greece. While back in the 1800s the protests against the retrieval of the marbles came from artists such as Lord Byron, the contemporary request comes from the Greek government trying to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of the whole world and Greece namely (The Parthenon Marbles par. 2).

Elgin marbles kept in the British Museum today represent only about sixty percent of all the sculptures remaining after the ruination of the Parthenon (The removed sculptures par. 3). This way, what used to be a sole ancient masterpiece is broken into two major parts, one of which stays in Britain, while the other one rests in Greece.

The British Museum keeps rejecting the requests of the Greek government to return the marbles. One of the main arguments employed by the Museum earlier used to be the fact that Greece simply did not have a museum large enough to display even half of the existing remains of the Parthenon Marbles.

Recently this argument became invalid since a new museum has been built near the foundation of the Acropolis; this building is 226 thousand square meters large (Kimmelman par. 3). The future results of the argument concerning the ownership of the marbles are unknown, but it becomes obvious that it gets harder and harder for the British authorities and leaders to stand their ground.

One of the most recent discussions focused on the issue of the Parthenon marbles debates whether magnificent masterpieces such as the sculptures retrieved from Athens have a particular owner or should be treated as belonging to the whole world. This way, the debaters are divided into two sides – the ones who view lord Elgin’s actions as vandalism and the ones who are convinced that the marbles were salvaged by him.

Truly, the attitude of the local population of that time towards the archeological ruins of the Parthenon was rather wasteful, large parts of the original sculptures were re-used for building new houses (Beard par. 11).

Besides, numerous travelers and sightseers visiting the Parthenon took home everything that could be carried, which is why a lot of the European museums hold many separate pieces of its sculptures. From this perspective, the decision of Lord Elgin to take a large portion of the Parthenon to Britain served as an act of preservation of the ancient masterpiece.

In my opinion, rationally, it would be better to keep all the Parthenon marbles together in one museum. It is also logical that the marbles are expected to be kept in Greece, where they originally come from. Of course, if this was the rule, all the foreign sculptures and paintings kept in the museums and galleries of the world would have been expected to be sent back to their motherlands. The case of the Parthenon marbles is slightly different.

The situation is that almost half of what used to be a single piece of art remains in Greece, and as a result, the artwork is separated. Even though the supporters of the side of the British Museum maintain that all of the sculptures could never be re-assembled to make a sole piece, the fact is that the Parthenon continues to be considered as a single archeological monument, so its parts are to be kept together.

Such an approach would allow the viewers of all kinds to have a better idea about the true size and shape of the original Parthenon and would provide a better field for research for the scientists and scholars. Lord Elgin’s noble deed directed at the preservation of the marbles should be carried on and the sculptures should be returned to Greece.

Works Cited

Beard, Mary. Lord Elgin – Saviour or Vandal? 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/greeks/parthenon_debate_01.shtml>

Kimmelman, Michael. Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light. 23 Jun. 2009. Web. 5 Feb. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/arts/design/24abroad.html>

The Parthenon Marbles. The British Museum. n. d. Web. 5 Feb. 2015. <http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/news_and_press/statements/parthenon_sculptures.aspx>

The Parthenon Sculptures. Parthenon. 2012. Web. 5 Feb. 2015 <http://www.parthenon.newmentor.net/index.html>

The removed sculptures. Odysseus. 2012. Web. 5 Feb. 2015. <http://odysseus.culture.gr/a/1/12/ea126.html>

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