MacGregor on the Elgin Marbles

Posted on: November 11, 2014 by

Much has been said in the media of late about the Greek claim to the Elgin Marbles. But last week came a response from the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor. It was written up in The Times on Friday 7 November, but is sadly unavailable online to non-subsribers.

In response to the claims made by the legal team representing the Greek government (which includes Jeffrey Robertson, Amal Clooney and Norman Palmer), MacGregor went through several arguments as to why the Marbles should not be returned. Firstly, the objects were legally acquired by Lord Elgin and so the British Museum is the rightful owner. Secondly, the Marbles will give “maximum public benefit” if they remain at a universal museum like the British Museum. Besides, he states, if they are returned to Athens, they will go from being part of “world culture” to being merely “Athenian”.

Despite one’s views on MacGregor’s (unsurprising) stance, he did say that the British Museum would be open to discussion with the Greeks on the matter, but he blames the Greek government’s failure to recognise the Museum’s ownership of the Marbles as a block to any possible solution. The Marbles could, for instance, be loaned to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. This apparently is a non-starter for the Greeks, since any acceptance of a loan would entail an acquiescence of British Museum ownership.

And so the matter remains unresolved – at least to some.