A new advisory board in the UK chaired by the former Conservative culture minister has been launched dedicated to returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, the BBC reported Thursday.
The board, called the Parthenon Project, will be headed by Lord Vaizey, a culture minister from 2010 to 2016. He told the BBC that he believes “a deal is within reach”.
“Support for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens from the public, and in particular Conservative-leaning voters, is clear,” he said, referring to a poll shared with the BBC of nearly 2,000 people, commissioned by the Parthenon Project. The poll suggested 16% of British participants think the Parthenon Marbles should remain in London, while 54% said they should be returned. A majority of participants said the sculptures should be returned because they “rightfully belong to Greece”.
The House of Lords began debating Thursday on an act which restricts museums from deaccessioning objects in their collections. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement that “the British Museum is prevented by law from removing objects from its collections, except in some narrow circumstances. The government has no plans to change this act.”
The Parthenon Marbles are a collection of 5th century B.C.E. sculptures removed from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens under the direction of the Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin, then the ambassador to the Greek-occupying Ottoman Empire. The works have been on display in the British Museum since 1817, despite calls from successive Greek governments for their return.
In an interview with Britain’s GB News, Prime Minister Liz Truss, who succeeded Boris Johnson last month was asked about a possible agreement with Greece that would see the sculptures leave London. She replied that she “does not support” any such arrangement.
Before the end of his tenure, Boris Johnson shifted the decision for returning the sculptures to Greece to the trustees of the British Museum after meeting with the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, last November. Mitsotakis has stated his intent to request Truss reconsider the restitution of the works during an intergovernmental meeting set for later this year.
The Parthenon Project has proposed “a cultural partnership” that would include “rotating exhibits of significant artifacts yet unseen in London. An agreement could be reached whereby a new exhibition would be staged every few months in the gallery where the Parthenon sculptures are currently displayed.”
The group added that the rotating exhibitions would “induce fresh interest each time a new visiting collection is announced.”
The British Museum has signaled a willingness to discuss loan agreements for the Parthenon Marbles, though it has rejected the possibility of restitution.
In a statement, the museum said: “We will loan the sculptures, as we do many other objects, to those who wish to display them to the public around the world, provided they will look after them and return them.”
“Deepening public access and understanding, creating new ways and opportunities for collections to be shared and understood right across the world, and forging connections between the present and the past, remain at the core of what the British Museum seeks to achieve,” the museum added.