Saturday, May 26, 2012

The British Museum and the Elgin Marbles

As the contemporary Greek Euro tragedy/farce continues to unfold, an expedition on a lovely May Saturday morning to the Parthenon sculptures section in the east wing of the British Museum, perfectly balanced on the one hand, the increasing heady London atmosphere,stemming  from the mix of the forthcoming QE2 diamond jubilee pageantry, the London Olympic Games jamborees and at last hot sunshine, and on the other, Greek political and financial crises summarised by Christine Lagarde's  comments in today's Guardian newspaper that she had more sympathy for children deprived of decent schooling in  sub Saharan Africa than for many of those facing poverty in Athens.

There were crowds at  British Museum  although the space in the  new (to me anyway) entrance hall absorbed us all with  ease. Most visitors   headed for the Egyptian rooms  and by the time I had made way way past those to room 18, the crowds had thinned away to almost nothing.

The most interesting aspects   about the sculptures  seem to concern firstly the history they depict/reflect about Grecian and Persian lives and secondly  the history of the Parthenon itself as a building. The latter of course includes the fact that artifacts from the building atop the Athens Acropolis,   found their way to the British museum as well as other museums such as the Musee du Louvre Paris and The Vatican museum. I say "seem",  as to a connoisseur of sculpture they may be fascinating for their intrinsic beauty workmanship and worth, but to me that aspect  was on par with municipal architecture and trophy statuary  everywhere down the ages.

 There is or used to be for example a statue of  His Excellency Emperor Haile Selassie in a neglected part of Wimbledon's Cannizaro Park,  which I always assumed was intended for some important civic centre somewhere but when like the Greek Gods of old  he ceased to be a focus of attention, his monument  was left to languish under a bushel. That the Parthenon was built in about 450BC  (compared with a 1923  vintage for Haile Selassie) makes one marvel at the meticulous workmanship  that went into the Grecian sculptures but the clues they provide about real life at that time are far more interesting than the Elgin Marbles themselves.

The Greek view of the rights and wrongs of Elgin's transport and statues' current location are to be found at their website at:

Hellenic Ministry of Culture

And those of the British Museum may be  read at:

British Museum and The Parthenon Sculptures

An important factor for many who say that the statues are part of the world heritage rather than  merely a local one, may be that visiting the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum is admission fee free. I am not sure what the current practice is in Greece but when visiting that lovely country as a student years back,   ticket kiosks and expensive admission fees were very much the norm. Still with Greek banks and government  currently needing every Euro they can lay their hands on  who could blame them today?

Hiring and riding a Boris Bike after the Museum visit was so enjoyable that I meandered around streets and alleyways before cycling a roundabout route  back to Waterloo and SWTrain home.

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