As more missing artifacts come back to Greece, a change in international attitudes raises hopes for the return of the Parthenon Marbles
By Iota Sykka
The recent return of antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum to their countries of origin has helped bring about a change in attitudes worldwide regarding the repatriation of antiquities. Top museums, which only a few years back had signed firm declarations that they were not going to part with their disputed antiquities, provoked mainly by Greece’s claim for the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum, seem to have changed their stance. The New York Metropolitan Museum has reached a deal with the Italians to return the priceless Euphronius Krater and the Morgantina treasure while the Getty Institute has emerged a little the worse for wear after its curator went on trial in Italy for illicit trading in antiquities.
The current trend is in Greece’s favor, which, unlike in the past, has proved ready to exploit it. The country started action under former culture minister Petros Tatoulis, and has been continued by the current minister, Giorgos Voulgarakis, who, after a decade-long fruitless campaign via diplomatic channels, has achieved the return of antiquities from the Getty Museum. Two of the four antiquities, a 6th century BC votive relief from the island of Thassos depicting a god and worshippers and a carved stele have already been repatriated. The impressive gold wreath and marble statue are next in line and negotiations have started with the museum’s director, Michael Brandt.
Culture Minister Voulgarakis recently flew with the prime minister’s airplane to Heidelberg to receive a fragment of a foot belonging to a leaf bearer from Block VIII of the Parthenon frieze’s north section (depicting a procession of chiton- and cape-clad flute and guitar players). The fragment, which was going to be sold as a souvenir, is square and has the word “Parthenon” engraved on it. It belonged to the university collection and was purchased in Athens by an unknown individual in 1871. The repatriation, in which Heidelberg Professor Angelos Chaniotis took part, is a highly symbolic gesture and a trump card that will assist Greek demands for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum.
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