In his latest column, David Hughes from the Arts Society Glaven Valley discusses the issue of the ancient Greek sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles, and whether they should stay at the British Museum. 

It is now around 200 years since the purchase of the so-called 'Elgin Marbles' from Lord Elgin, by the British Parliament. The recent furore over the theft of ancient valuable items from the British Museum has re-opened the difficult issue of the future of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

It was 1983 when the Greek government formally asked for the statues to be returned in order to be placed again in the Parthenon in Athens, in a new museum there.

In 2021, Unesco concluded that the UK government had an obligation to return the marbles and called upon the UK government to open negotiations with Greece.

In late 2022, British and Greek authorities resumed negotiations on the future of the marbles.

North Norfolk News: David Hughes from the Glaven Valley Arts SocietyDavid Hughes from the Glaven Valley Arts Society (Image: Glaven Valley Arts Society)

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seemed to rule out any possibility of the marbles leaving the UK, when he said the UK had “cared for the Elgin Marbles for generations” and that “our galleries and museums are funded by taxpayers because they are a huge asset to this country. We share their treasures with the world, and the world comes to the UK to see them.”

Mr Sunak insisted that the collection of the British Museum is protected by law, and there were no plans to change it.

However, the man recently appointed as the new boss of the British Museum, Sir Mark Jones, has previously said he thought that sharing the items between London and Athens could be a good thing.

If all of this seems remote from us in North Norfolk, just stop for a moment and consider what might happen to collections at some of our heritage buildings such as Holkham Hall and Houghton House if there is a huge movement towards repatriation of artworks.

North Norfolk News: The sculptures were removed from the ParthenonThe sculptures were removed from the Parthenon (Image: George E. Koronaios)

With perfect timing, the next meeting of the Arts Society Glaven Valley 0n 19 September 2023 will hear a brilliant about the Elgin Marbles.

This lecture, beautifully illustrated with specifically taken slides and video, will explore the aesthetics, the back-story, and the heated debates surrounding these fascinating and controversial works of ancient Greek art: what do we mean by 'the Elgin Marbles'? How and why were they originally created? Why are they so highly regarded? What happened to them between their creation and Elgin's time?

How did he acquire them? Why are they now in the British Museum? And why are there such passionately held views both for and against their repatriation to Greece?

Our lecturer, Dr Steve Kershaw, is an eminent classical scholar who has travelled extensively in Greece, and is the author of many highly regarded books - quite apart from being one of UK’s best jazz bass players.

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North Norfolk News: Steve KershawSteve Kershaw (Image: Supplied)

Later this year, we have a wide range of fascinating talks planned ranging from the History of Monopoly (the board game we all play every Christmas, don’t we?) to the music of St Paul's Cathedral and including the untold story of Carry On actor Peter Butterworth and his wife Janet Brown, Britain’s first female TC impressionist.

The Arts Society Glaven Valley meets for lectures on arts and related subjects, once a month on the third Tuesday from September to June. We meet at Cley Village Hall where there is plenty of free car parking.

Membership of TASGV costs £45 a year. New members are welcomed and you can find out how to join on our website