This article has NOTHING to do with George Clooney, but let’s be honest, in the news recently we can’t see Amal Alamuddin’s name without being mentioned along side George Clooney and that’s a shame! Alamuddin has an extraordinary reputation on her own as a human rights lawyer and activist who specializes in international and criminal law. Now Ms. Clooney (she took her husband’s name) is on a crusade to rescue the Elgin marbles and have them returned to Greece.
In October of 2014, Ms. Clooney began the process of repatriating the Elgin marbles for the Greek government. If you are unfamiliar about the history of these ancient Greek marble sculptures from Greece, here is your history lesson. The Elgin marbles, also called the Parthenon marbles, once were part of the Parthenon and other buildings that make up the Acropolis in Athens. These classical Greek works of art were mostly made by Phidias and his assistants and are made up of sculptures, inscriptions, and other features of the original architecture of the buildings at this historic site. More specifically, the collection includes 247 feet of the once existing 524-foot frieze, 15 of 92 metopes, 17 figures from the pediments, and an assortment of additional pieces of architecture. This by no means is the only remaining collection of the sculptures that still exist from the Acropolis and Parthenon. Long before Lord Elgin took possession of his portion of the sculptures, many other sculptures were pillaged from this historic site prior to the Ottoman occupation of Greece in the 1800s and are held in other museum collections in the US like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Europe such as The Louvre. Athens also removed all the art from this historic location and relocated it to the museum build especially for it, the Acropolis Museum, in 2007.
These British possessed sculptures received their name from Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, better known as Lord Elgin. He “acquired” these works of art during his time as an ambassador to the Ottoman court of the Sultan in Istanbul between 1799-1803. Lord Elgin later sold them to the British Parliament in 1816 and after, they were gifted to the British Museum. They were put on display in the Elgin Room of the British Museum after its completion in 1832.
Repatriation talk began approximately 40 year ago spearheaded by the late Melina Mercouri, then the Minster of Culture of Greece in the 1980s, but the British government argued that Athens did not have the space or the means to present or maintain the marbles. Many have taken up the fight for the return on the marbles since Mercouri such as Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, Clooney, and current Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Once Greece completed the Acropolis Museum however, it was apparent that this was merely an excuse for the British government to keep the Greek treasures. They claimed the possession of the marbles in the museum “allows different complementary stories to be told about them.” (Guardian, 2014)
There are others that don’t feel the marbles should be returned to Greece, specifically of course, the British government. They have made the case that the British Museum attracts a wider audience and therefore more people will be able to experience these sculptures. The are also quick to point out that the existence of the marbles in London for over 200 years is itself a part of history influencing architecture and design in Britain during that period. The New York Times put it best when it said “imperialism isn’t an endearing argument.”(New York Times, 2009)
For more info check out these additional sources:
“What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?.” British Museum – What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?. The British Museum, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/w/what_are_the_elgin_marbles.aspx>.
Smith, Helena. “Parthenon marbles meet Hollywood as Amal Alamuddin Clooney advises Greece | Art and design.” The Guardian. Guardian News, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/13/parthenon-marbles-hollywood-amal-alamuddin-george-clooney-greece>.
Michael, Kimmelman. “Abroad – Athens Museum Opening Reprises Debate on Elgin Marbles – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Art & Design. The New York Times, 23 June 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/arts/design/24abroad.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.