Neil MacGregor's Marbles

There have been rumors that Neil MacGregor might go to a museum in the US. One reason is that in Britain museum directors are expected to retire at 65, a hang-over from museum jobs being civil service positions. If he was born in 1946, then he will be retiring in four years. 65 was long seen as the age at which one should retire, after which one might not be fully compos mentis - or start losing ones Marbles, in the vernacular.

Last week the press was full of stories based on MacGregor's 'new' position on the Elgin Marbles - it started with a piece for Bloomberg by Martin Gayford, and the general gist seemed to be that if the Greeks agreed the British owned the Elgin Marbles, then we could loan them to the New Acropolis Museum, and the two halves of the Parthenon sculptures could be re-united. It sounds like progress, but really it's not. MacGregor also said that the Greeks had not asked for a loan of the sculptures, something he also said to me twice, and which I have heard repeated elsewhere. The BM's own web site used to mention the loan request - until I suggested they remove it if they are claiming that the Greeks did not ask for a loan.

Bloomberg article 17th April (mirrored here - quotes in bold):

``There is no reason why any object in the BM -- if it is fit to travel -- shouldn't spend three months, six months somewhere else,''

The letter below says the opposite, and the BM has always said that iconic pieces cannot be loaned. But I guess one can change one's mind.
In addition, he said, ``the Greek government has never asked for a loan of the material from the British Museum. The issue has always been about the permanent removal of all the Parthenon material in the BM collection to Athens.''

Really? The November 2002 letter I've posted photos of below is one of a series I was given, that seem to suggest that the Greek Minister of Culture, Prof. Venizelos, requested a loan on behalf of the Greek Government, in writing, and at a meeting with MacGregor. It doesn't get more official than that in my book, but I guess MacGregor wanted the Greek President to go down on bended knee and ask the Queen?

Professor Anthony Snodgrass ... said: ``This offer is a theoretical one in every sense. Mr. MacGregor knows that no Greek government could ever make a formal concession that the BM has legal ownership.''

Very true.

The Bloomberg piece was picked up by other newspapers, for example the Daily Mail (quotes in bold):
The Greek government has, as yet, to ask if the marbles can be borrowed

Mr MacGregor said a loan deal has never been discussed.

See the letter below, which seems to contradict these statements.

Is this empirical confirmation that museum directors should retire at 65? Before they lose our Marbles? If Neil MacGregor cannot remember something as important as whether or not the Greek Government has requested the loan of an iconic body of sculptures ...

(click on images to enlarge)

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