Acropolis - Elgin Marbles, Athens
It was January 1804 when the first 65 cases arrived in London, where they remained for two years because Elgin had been imprisoned in France.
The maltreatment which the Marbles suffered was unavoidable. They were placed in the dirty and damp shed at grounds of Elgin's Park Lane house and remained there for years, decaying in London's damp climate, while he tried to find a buyer.
Elgin made attempts to sell the Marbles to the British government but the price he asked was so high that they refused to buy them. As the years passed, so the Marbles influenced the lives of people in Britain. Churches, buildings and houses were built in Greek classical style.
In a letter written by Elgin in 1815, he admitted that the Marbles were still in the coal shed at Burlington House, decaying from the destructive dampness.
Finally, in 1816, the Marbles were sold to the British government and were at once transferred from Burlington House to the British Museum, where a special gallery was eventually built for them by Sir Joseph Duveen at his own expense. Note: recently it has become clear that there are still a lot of stolen Greek works of art at Burlington House to this day.
In December 1940 a Labour MP, Mrs Keir, asked the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill whether the Marbles would be returned to Greece in partial recognition of that country's valiant resistance to the Germans and the sacrifices of its people. The answer was negative. At the time that Mrs Keir tabled her question, there was a large number of letters published in the Times favouring the return of the Marbles to Greece.
In 1941 the head of the Labour Party, Clement Attlee, who was a member of the wartime coalition government, replied to Mrs Keir's question, saying that there was no intention to take any legal steps for the return of the Marbles.
undertaken over a period of fifteen months from 1938 to 1939, when museum workmen without official authorisation used copper tools to remove what they believed was dirt but was in reality the honey-coloured patina of the historical surface. An official statement released at the time and published in The Times stated that the commissioning of Lord Duveen's new gallery to house the sculptures presented a good opportunity to clean the sculptures and improve the surface appearance by removing spots of discolouration.
The British Museum Standing Committee found that "through unauthorised and improper efforts to improve the colour of the Parthenon sculpture for Lord Duveen's new gallery, some important pieces had been greatly damaged" . This resulted in disciplinary action being taken against two officials.
There was further controversy over the cleaning of the marbles in 1983, when the British Museum was accused of speeding up the process of decay by coating the caryatid with a supposedly protective plastic film.
Thomas Bruce became the seventh Earl of Elgin in 1771 at the age of five. Lord Elgin married in 1795 and promised his wealthy young bride a fabulous new mansion as a wedding gift. At that time, "all Greek things" had become the rage in Great Britain. Elgin's appreciation of Greek art and architecture combined with his desire to be the envy of British nobility prompted him to employ Thomas Harrison, an architect who had studied Greek and Roman styles, to design his new home, Broom Hall, in the classical style of Greece. Elgin's goal was further empowered in 1799 when he was appointed British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and assigned to the capital in Constantinople, Turkey. The Turks had previously conquered Greece and occupied and controlled the country, including, of course, Athens.
Although removal of sculptures from the Parthenon was not Elgin's original intent, his position as British ambassador practically invited him to request permission of the Turks to take away works of Greek antiquity to adorn his planned Broom Hall. As the Turks had little regard for Greek art, which they certainly possessed as conquerors of Greece, they fairly readily granted the request. The favor of the powerful ambassador was of far greater value to the Turks than were the ancient Greek statues in Athens!
The firman (or authority) the Turks gave Elgin in 1801 included the word "qualche," which could be translated either "some" or "any." While the original intent of the Turks' meaning will never be known for certain, Elgin's agents in Athens interpreted "qualche" as "any".
When the Parthenon was built between 447 BC and 432 BC, three sets of sculptures, the metopes, the frieze and the pediments, were created to adorn it. Of these, the metopes and the frieze were part of the structure of the Parthenon itself. They were not carved first and then put in place, high up on the Parthenon, but were carved on the sides of the Parthenon itself after it had been constructed.
The metopes were individual sculptures in high relief. There were 92 metopes, 32 on each side and 14 at each end and each metope was separated from its neighbours by a simple archtitectural decoration called a triglyph, The metopes were placed around the building, above the outside row of columns and showed various mythical battles. The north side showed scenes from the Trojan war; the south side showed a battle between the Greeks and the Centaurs -- part man, part horse; the east side showed the Olympian gods fighting giants and the west side showed a battle between Greeks and Amazons.
The frieze, 160 metres long, was placed above the inner row of columns, so it was not so prominently displayed. It is one long, continuous sculpture in low relief, showing the procession to the temple at the Panathenaic festival.
At either end of the temple, in the large triangular space, the pediment statues in the round were placed. These were designed to fill the space so that those at the highest point of the triangle are enormous. The pediment sculptures have been so badly damaged that we only know what they represent because of the writings of the Greek writer and traveller Pausanias, who was active around 150 AD. According to him, the sculptures in the east pediment represent the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus and the sculptures in the west pediment represent the struggle between Athena and Poseidon for the land of Attica.