George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin Aside, What to Do With the Elgin Marbles?

Can celebrities save the world, or at least get back stolen art?

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin.

Not everyone is on board with the efforts of George Clooney’s new wife, Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece (see “Can George Clooney’s Wife Rescue the Elgin Marbles?“). In an op-ed, the Telegraph argues that the British Museum is entitled to keep the ancient statues, brought to the UK by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, over 200 years ago.

The article writes off Alamuddin-Clooney, a graduate of both Oxford University and New York University Law School who speaks fluent Arabic, French, and English, as just another “glamorous dresser” being paraded around for the Greek cause. The internationally renowned human rights lawyer’s former clients include Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine.

“Had the ghastly Lord Elgin not plundered his works of art,” the piece speculates, “they could have ended up in the footings of some Athens kebab stand.” Although it is based on the premise that eighteenth-century Greeks often recycled ancient structures to build new buildings, this is hardly an argument that is likely to placate the Greek government, who has been pushing for the statue’s repatriation since the 1980s.

Statues from the pediment of the Parthenon. Photo: via Wikimedia Commons.

Statues from the pediment of the Parthenon. Photo: via Wikimedia Commons.

Lord Elgin claimed the Ottoman Empire, of which Greece was then a part, gave him permission to export the statuary. Greece believes Elgin looted the Parthenon, and many view Britian’s continued possession of the marbles as a relic of the country’s imperialistic past. The Telegraph makes the slippery slope argument, pointing to the many other ancient artworks that have since left their land of origin. The case is weakened, however, by the citation of Nigeria’s Benin bronzes, as two of the looted statues were returned to tribal leaders earlier this year (see “Benin Bronzes Looted By the British Returned to Nigeria“).

Though Greece is now equipped with a state of the art museum (see “Lasers Used to Clean Ancient Greek Statues“) that has set aside space specifically for the long-lost marbles, it remains to be seen whether an agreement with the UK to repatriate the statues will be reached.

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