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Marbles back at British Museum


Greece has laid claim to the Elgin Marbles

Greece has laid claim to the Elgin Marbles

Greece has laid claim to the Elgin Marbles

A section of the Elgin Marbles loaned to Russia last year has returned to the British Museum to take centre stage in a new exhibition.

The sculpture of the river god, Ilissos, will go on show away from the other marbles.

They have been in the museum since 1816 and apart from spending the war years safely stashed in a Tube Station none had ever left until the sculpture was sent to Russia where more than 139,000 people saw it before its return this year .

Lesley Fitton, the keeper of the department of Greece and Rome at the central London museum, said: "For us who've been used to the sculptures in the Duveen Gallery all of these decades, we've never loaned them anywhere else in all our working lives, and for us it's really like meeting them again for the first time almost, even though they've always been so familiar. "

The 2,500-year-old marbles were presented to the London institution after being removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis by Lord Elgin - with the debate over whether they should be returned to Greece raging ever since.

Greece maintains they were taken illegally during the country's Turkish occupation and should be returned for display in Athens, which the British Museum and the Government reject.

Ms Fitton said she hoped the temporary transfer to Russia and the new exhibition "will have moved the debates over the Parthenon sculptures on a bit".

She said: " I think it had become very polarised and static and very much an impasse."

Curator Ian Jenkins said visitors would get "a different story" seeing one of the marbles away from the rest.

He said lending the work to Russia and splitting it from the rest of the marbles for a temporary exhibition would move the debate forward.

He said: "It's not every day that the British Museum takes one of its most famous pieces and consigns it to an aircraft and lends it but I think the director would say that it's about breathing oxygen into the story of the Parthenon sculptures".

British Museum director Neil MacGregor indicated that he would be willing to consider a similar loan of a statue to Greece, but only if the authorities there promised to return it to London.

: : Defining Beauty: The Body In Ancient Greek Art opens on March 26 and runs to July 5.

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