Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Repatriation of Beauty

Someone recently forwarded me images from a new campaign out of Greece to return precious antiquities to the place of their creation, the place of their birth so to speak. The images below are, in my opinion, quite beautiful and represent what truly was a Golden Age.
Now, I know that this is an extremely touchy subject and many doubt that the Greeks are responsible enough, or financially stable enough, to care for these masterpieces. Even I, several years ago, believed that many of these treasures would be better cared for in the British Museum or the Louvre. If you haven't been to either of the latter places, you should go. Each gallery is like entering a different world.

However, a few years ago, the new Acropolis Museum opened in Athens ( I had my doubts, like many others. But, when I walked across the glass floor of the courtyard, ancient ruins far underfoot, and through those doors, I realized that I had been mistaken and had much underestimated the project. The new Acropolis Museum is simply stunning. Inside, you can interact with the artefacts on a very personal level, are able to circle them fully and up close. It was packed when we went but all sound seemed to leach out of the place when you were face to face with marble creations that most only see in books. Even my kids were gob smacked!

The new museum is not some modern monstrosity or an old structure with a new barnacle attached such as we have (I'm sorry to say it) in Toronto. The walls and girders of the Acropolis Museum seem almost not to be there at all. The eye is drawn to the artefacts, so much so that one can almost hear whispers across the ages. The best part for me was when we reached the upper level where the few Parthenon marbles that remain in Greece are laid out in a gallery that reflects the exact footprint of the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Parthenos. Artefacts are placed in the same position they would have occupied on the Parthenon itself, which looms quietly above the museum. However, there were far too many empty spaces awaiting the return of the marbles, the galloping horsemen of the frieze and statuary from the pediments among them.

I had held my breath when I saw the giant crane lowering the artefacts from the top of the Acropolis down, through the air to the new museum. I suspect many Athenians and lovers of antiquity did likewise. However, the move was a success and the new museum a triumph. So, now that the Parthenon marbles have a secure home to return to, why not return them? The same with artefacts in the Louvre, Berlin or other museums around the world. There have been several acts of repatriation of late, so it is being done. The Getty Museum in L.A. recently returned priceless reliefs to the Archaeological Museum of Athens and so too have other U.S. museums returned items to Italy. Egypt has long been waiting for several precious artefacts to be returned by the British and Berlin museums, among others.

Of course I understand why these countries would like to keep these artefacts but at the end of the day, they were taken. Napoleon took what he wanted from Egypt and Lord Elgin hacked the ancient images from the side of the Parthenon because he had 'permission' from the occupying Ottoman forces in Greece at the time. That was how history played out but perhaps now is the time to make right past wrongs. Scholars from around the world will be welcome to study the Parthenon marbles in Athens with ease, will likely be welcomed with open arms by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Not only do the ads pictured here remind us of where these antiquities truly belong but they also evoke something more, some pathos, a connection with the life of these images of a Golden Age long passed but still felt.
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