The British Museum has pledged not to dismantle its collection, following a report that the institution’s chairman has held secret talks with Greece’s prime minister over the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles.
The report by the Greek newspaper Ta Nea is the latest twist in the long-running dispute over ownership of the ancient sculptures, which originally stood on the Acropolis in Athens and have been a centerpiece of the British Museum’s collection since 1816.
Ta Nea reported Saturday that negotiations between museum Chairman George Osborne and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have been taking place since November 2021 and are at an advanced stage.
While the museum didn’t deny that talks have taken place, a spokesman refused to discuss the specifics of the Ta Nea story. The museum said it was prepared to “talk to anyone, including the Greek government” about a new Parthenon “partnership.’’
“As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,” the museum said in a statement released Saturday. “But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”
The Greek government offered no comment on the report.
Although British authorities have rebuffed efforts to return the sculptures to Greece since at least 1941, there has been a change of tone recently as museums around the world seek to address concerns about the way ancient artifacts were acquired during periods of imperial domination and colonial expansion.
In July, Jonathan Williams, the British Museum’s deputy director, said the institution wanted to “change the temperature of the debate” around the marbles.
“What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece,” he told the Sunday Times. “I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”
On its website, the museum says it is willing to consider loaning the sculptures to Greece, but that successive Greek government’s have refused to acknowledge the museum’s ownership. There are no current negotiations about the issue, the museum says. [full story AP]