Elgin Marbles in (Just a Bit of) Motion?

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Diverted by Virginia Tech, I didn’t get a chance to point out this development from a couple of days ago in the battle between Greece and the British Museum over the Elgin Marbles. In brief, in an interview with Bloomberg News, Neil MacGregor, Director of the Museum, said that “in principle” he would be willing to lend the marbles to Greece, if Greece would acknowledge that the trustees of the Museum are the owners.

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From The Parthenon Frieze: Procession of Horse Drawn Chariots — © Trustees of the British Museum

Is this an opening gambit? MacGregor must know that for now no Greek government could agree to relinquish its own claim to be the rightful owner. But he may be genuinely signaling that a sharing arrangement is something the museum would consider — so long as it had assurances it would always get them back.

That leaves open the question of what’s good for the works themselves. Do we really want them continually shuttled back and forth from London to Athens? We’ve already got an Eakins commuting regularly across Philadelphia, which still strikes me as a risky proposition. And if the British Museum assents to a sharing arrangement, would the Greeks also expect to retrieve the fragments of the Parthenon carvings that are in seven other European museums? (Including the Louvre and — uh oh — the Vatican.)

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