An Italian museum is lending Greece a fragment of the Parthenon sculptures that both sides hope will become a permanent return that others – the British Museum in particular – might encourage to return their own pieces of the works as well.
Sicily’s regional archaeological museum announced on Wednesday that it had signed an agreement with the Acropolis Museum in Athens for a one-time renewable four-year loan of the small piece of white marble in exchange for a loan of a statue and a vase. But the ultimate goal, the A. Salinas Archaeological Museum in Sicily said in a statement, is the “indefinite return” of the fragment to Athens.
About half of the surviving sculptures from the 5th. Small fragments are also kept in other European museums.
“The return of this important artifact of the Parthenon to Athens goes towards building a Europe of culture, rooted in our history and in our identity,” said Sicilian City Councilor for Cultural Heritage and Identity, Alberto SamonÃ .
The piece is the right foot of a draped figure of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, which was originally located on the east side of a 160 meter high frieze that ran around the temple. It came to Palermo through Robert Fagan, a 19th century English consul in Sicily, although how he acquired it is unknown. After Fagan’s death, his widow sold the fragment to the Regio-Museum of the University of Palermo, which became the Regional Museum of A. Salinas, the statement said.
In the statement, the Greek authorities cited the initiative in the hope that it would encourage the British Museum to return its sculptures brought from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, at the beginning of the 19th century.
The sculptures – 17 figures from the building’s gables and part of the frieze – were the subject of a long dispute between Britain and Greece that renewed its attempt to bring the marbles home.
Britain claims that Elgin legally acquired the sculptures when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans. The Greek government says they were stolen and would like them to be displayed in the Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009.
Italy’s fragment has been loaned to Athens in the past, but for a short time. Sicily’s regional authorities have started talks with the Ministry of Culture to make the loan permanent and put it on the agenda of a ministry committee dealing with such returns, the statement said.
Italy has led the international effort to regain antiquities that have been looted from its territory and ended up in museums and private collections around the world. It’s also at the end of the restitution market when it finds antiques or works of art illegally brought into the country.
In return for the receipt of the foot fragment, the Acropolis Museum lends the Palermo Museum a marble statue of Athena from the 5th century BC. And a terracotta amphora in linear, geometric style from the middle of the 8th