Ilissos. Marble statue from the West pediment of the Parthenon. Designed by Pheidias, Athens, Greece, 438BC-432BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

British Museum loans Parthenon Marbles to Hermitage Museum

Patrick Steel, 05.12.2014
Marbles to leave London museum for the first time
The British Museum is to lend a marble sculpture of the river god Ilissos, part of the Parthenon Marbles, to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia.

According to the British Museum, it is the first time that one of the Parthenon Marbles has been requested for a loan, and will be the first time the marbles have left the museum.

Neil MacGregor, the museum’s director, said: “This sculpture speaks of the world of Socrates and Plato. A great work of art, it embodies the belief in the supreme value of rational debate among free citizens.

“There can be no better celebration of the Enlightenment ideals, which the British Museum and the Hermitage have shared for 250 years.”

Mikhaile Piotrovsky, the State Hermitage Museum’s director, said: “I am delighted that this important, beautiful and significant sculpture has been lent in celebration of our two museums’ shared values and will be seen alongside the permanent classical sculptures of the Hermitage.”

The British Museum houses about 30% of the original set of the Parthenon Marbles, roughly the same percentage as those in the Acropolis Museum.

The marbles have been at the centre of a dispute between the museum and the Greek government, which does not recognise the British Museum’s ownership of the sculptures.

Last October, Unesco wrote to William Hague, then the UK foreign secretary, and Maria Milller, then the UK culture secretary, inviting them to take part in a “mediation procedure” with the Greek government in a bid to resolve the dispute over the sculptures.

According to a statement from the British Museum: “The trustees will consider any request for any part of the collection to be borrowed, subject to the usual considerations of condition and fitness to travel.

"The simple precondition required by the trustees before they will consider whether or not to lend an object in the collection is that the borrowing institution can guarantee its safe return.”

Sharon Heal, the Museums Association’s director, said: "The Museums Association would like to see all parties around the table in a mediated discussion as Unesco has suggested.

"One of the key considerations should be acting in the public interest. This loan to Russia demonstrates that it is possible to lend sculpture on this scale and that there is huge international public interest in this collection.

"Mediation is a sensible option and Unesco is the right organisation to bring everyone concerned to the table."

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