I visit the Parthenon galleries on most working days and never grow tired of their timeless beauty and breathing vitality.

During public hours, the galleries are always crowded, as people gather from all over the world to see one of the great highlights of the Museum’s permanent collection. I say permanent, but that does not mean that the display remains always the same. The Museum is constantly researching the sculptures and looking for new ways of promoting understanding of them.

In this ‘laboratory of Parthenon studies’ there has been much excitement lately about the detection of ancient blue pigment on some of the sculptures.

Such discoveries are always shared first with Parthenon enthusiasts around the world and not least with colleagues in Greece. The Museum enjoys good relations with the Greek Archaeological Service, and both sides are determined not to let the politics of the campaign for the restitution of the sculptures get in the way of our friendship which is based upon mutual respect.

Since the late 1970s, I have followed with interest the great programme of restoration of the Acropolis monuments. This excellent project is correcting the mistakes of previous restoration and has been removing the sculptures that had remained on the building. Lord Elgin’s earlier act of rescue saved the sculptures in the British Museum from damage and loss through weathering. A comparison of plaster casts of the West frieze made in 1802 shows just how much the sculpture has deteriorated. The original sculpture was removed from the building in 1993.

Lord Elgin did more than physically save the sculptures. Once removed from the building they took on a life of their own. No longer seen as architectural ornament or antiquarian curiosity, they also became icons of western art.

In the British Museum they are both admired for their intrinsic beauty and they play a vital role in the Museum’s great story of human civilisation throughout the world, past and present.


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