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The Restitution of Ancient Artefacts

by Sarah Irving [1], Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Warwick



The restitution of ancient artefacts is a well-debated subject. This article will examine the evolution of the legal framework and the ethical considerations to be weighed in relation to the restitution of ancient artefacts. Three case studies have been chosen in order to explore specific issues related to the restitution of antiquities. The first, that of the Parthenon Marbles, has been highly publicised. The removal of the Marbles is seen as legitimate by some, but illicit by others, and the demands for the restitution of the Marbles highlight the debate over cultural nationalism and cultural property internationalism. The second is the case of the Cult Statue of the Goddess from Morgantina. This is an illegally excavated artefact which was returned by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to Aidone in Sicily as the result of negotiation and legal pressure. The third case study concerns the seemingly legitimate removal of mosaics and statues from Kos and their installation in Rhodes by the Italian fascist regime in the 1930s. This final, little-researched and little-publicised case study focuses on the removal of artefacts from the context in which they were established, analyses the arguments for their restitution and stresses the importance of providing freely available scholarly information. It also demonstrates how relocated artefacts, such as the Quadriga of San Marco, can, over time, become integrated into a different, new cultural context.

Keywords: Archaeology, Cultural property, Getty Venus, Kos mosaics, Parthenon Marbles, Restitution


This article examines the problems surrounding the restitution of ancient artefacts to their place of origin. It explores the importance of the legal framework and the ethical considerations to be taken into account in relation to repatriation and the ownership of disputed antiquities. Legally acquired artefacts, along with looted goods and illegal exports, often find their way into private and public collections, and a vast number of artefacts are located in places where they did not originate. This leads to unrecorded finds, the contexts of which are lost to humanity. The damage incurred from these unrecorded removals of artefacts from their original location is irreversible. Nonetheless it is important that this type of find be returned to its legitimate owner, preserved and displayed in an appropriate environment.

The removal of antiquities from their site of origin can be seen to have two distinct roots. The first is through 'plundering'. For centuries plundering has been regarded as a right and a reward for invading troops. There is evidence for such behaviour in Homer's Iliad (1.123-68). An artefact which illustrates the continuation of the plundering of relics throughout history is the Quadriga of bronze horses shown in Figure 1. The Quadriga originated in Chios and was taken to Constantinople, Venice, Paris, before returning to its current position in Venice (Jacoff, 1993: 5-6, 108).

Figure 1: Bronze Quadriga on display at St. Mark's Basilica, Venice

Figure 1: Bronze Quadriga on display at St. Mark's Basilica, Venice

Secondly, artefacts were taken to form private collections. This practice can also be traced back to antiquity; a collection of artefacts was found in the ruins of the sixth-century BC palace of the Babylonian princess Ennigaldi (Fowler, 2003: 12). The way that her artefacts were gathered is unknown; however, this is not so for the collection of the Roman state official Verres, who was attacked by Cicero for carrying off 'by force some most beautiful statues' (Cicero, Against Verres: 2.1.49) from Chios, Erythrae, Tenedos and Samos. Cicero later saw the removed statues at Verres's house, uncared for, 'waiting for the broker, left alone and deserted by the other statues' (Cicero, Against Verres: 2.1.61).


Legal Framework

It was not until the nineteenth century that there was any effort made by nation states to legislate for such issues. In 1863 US President Lincoln started to consider how, in a post-war country, the victorious and defeated belligerents might be reconciled. With penetrating foresight, he asked Francis Lieber, a respected jurist, to propose rules to regulate the behaviour of Union forces towards the Confederacy, its inhabitants and property. The Lieber Code (Articles 35-36) recognised for the first time that cultural property was a category which should be safeguarded in war.

The Lieber Code was the forerunner of the 1899 Hague Convention. This was the first international attempt to put down rules for war, and included policies for the treatment of historical and cultural artefacts. Section II of the Convention (Articles 46, 47 and 56 in particular) refers to cultural artefacts and formally protects cultural property from damage or destruction. The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict represented the first time that an international treaty focused solely on cultural property. This was not surprising as it had become apparent that Nazi Germany had systematically looted antiquities of every kind from occupied states. Indeed, in May 1945 the US General George Patton found more than 6500 paintings and stolen Italian and Jewish art in Austria, forming Göring's private collection (Rothfeld, 2002: 133).

In the 1960s in the US and in Europe, it became apparent that 'thefts were increasing both in museums and in archaeological sites, particularly in the countries of the South', while collectors and institutions in the North 'were increasingly offered objects which had been fraudulently imported or were of unidentified origin' (UNESCO website: 1970 Convention). Consequently UNESCO, an organisation run by the UN which encourages worldwide collaboration in the areas of education, science and culture, adopted the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in 1970 ('UNESCO 1970'). The Convention requires Nation States' Parties to take three types of actions. Firstly, they should introduce preventative measures by monitoring export certificates, as well as imposing penalties on offenders (Article 7 (a) and (b)). The wider public should also be educated to avoid inadvertent offences (Article 10). Secondly, Parties should take suitable measures to recover and return artefacts imported after the entry into the Convention of both States involved (Article 13(c)). Article 7 (b)(ii) allows compensation to be paid to an innocent buyer or to anyone with a valid claim. Article 1 contains a detailed definition of cultural property, as that which is important 'for archaeology, pre-history, history, literature, art or science'. Thirdly and most significantly, Article 2 recognises that international co-operation is one of the most efficient means of protecting cultural property.

Partly due to the ineffectiveness of UNESCO 1970, a 'complementary' (Prott, 1996: 59-71) Convention was introduced to provide a better mechanism for the return of stolen or illegally trafficked artefacts because of 'deep concern' over 'the loss of irreplaceable archaeological, historical and scientific information' (UNESCO 1970 - Prologue). The UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects ('UNIDROIT 1995') was adopted on 1 July 1998. UNIDROIT 1995 acknowledges that 'the common law offers no satisfactory solutions' (UNIDROIT, 1998: 1) for restitution and that UNESCO 1970 failed to address this problem as it was targeted at the prevention of illicit trading rather than addressing the 'private law aspects of cultural property protection' (UNIDROIT, 1998: 1). Both states and individuals are entitled to rely on the Convention. However it is only effective between states which are signatories. Several significant market nations, such as the USA, UK and Germany, are conspicuously missing from this list (UNIDROIT, 2009). Secondly, it only covers artefacts which have been stolen or illegally trafficked after the Convention which came into force in 1995. Thus UNIDROIT 1995 is limited in its power but addresses some of the deficiencies of UNESCO 1970, as it pursues different, though compatible, purposes (Prott, 1996: 59-71).

The fact remains that there are hundreds of artefacts which were removed from their original sites prior to its adoption. The conflict between retention and restitution of such objects arose in a case heard before the English High Court in May 2005 (Attorney General v Trustees of the British Museum [2005] EWHC 1089). In 1939 four old master drawings were looted from a Jewish-Czech man, Arthur Feldmann, and in 1946 the Trustees of the British Museum bought three of these at the fine art auction house, Sotheby's (one of which is illustrated in Figure 2). The fourth was left to the British Museum in the will of a third party. The Court agreed that the Trustees were unable to return the drawings as their responsibility was to the British nation rather than the original owners under the British Museum Act 1963 Section 5.

Figure 2: Drawing by Nicholas Blakey: 'An Allegory on Poetic Inspiration with Mercury and Apollo'

Figure 2: Drawing by Nicholas Blakey: 'An Allegory on Poetic Inspiration with Mercury and Apollo'

This case demonstrates that even when it is agreed that artefacts should be returned to their rightful owners, such a result cannot always be reached because of conflicting rights and domestic laws. UNESCO 1970 fails to address this type of domestic law relating to the ownership of cultural property in a manner that would result in its return. However the case also demonstrates that the possibility is open for such property to be recovered by the enforcement of private rights. The only reason that Dr Feldmann's estate failed was because of the existence of the 1963 Act; against a different defendant it may have succeeded. The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 has since given special rights to 'holocaust' artefacts but those from other periods are still subject to the British Museum Act 1963.

A new type of legal challenge was made in January 2013 by the Governor and citizens of Bodrum in Turkey to reclaim statues held at the British Museum. They have made a claim under Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that 'every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.' British archaeologists at the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in 1846, 1857 and 1859 were granted permission to excavate the site and remove the material that they found which they gave to the British Museum. This type of legal challenge is untested but is an interesting tool with which to recover antiquities. It may also be of concern to museums, as it appears to represent a present-day government of a nation state attempting to recover artefacts expressly disposed of legally by one of its predecessors.

Some countries have implemented their own, potentially more effective, legislation. The Swiss Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property 2004 establishes a link between cultural objects and cultural heritage, and requires museums to ensure that cultural property acquired has not been illegally excavated, stolen, or is not part of the heritage property of a foreign country (Article 17). This type of legislation paves the way for future regulation of the transfer of cultural property. Nonetheless this will only apply to future transfers and does not aid in reconciling the problem of artefacts transferred between nations in the past. A legal framework does not, and may never, exist for this type of problem and international co-operation and negotiation is crucial.


The Ethical Debate

There are, however, a significant number of artefacts whose provenance is uncertain or where illegality of their removal cannot be proved. Where UNESCO 1970 or UNIDROIT 1995 does not apply, or where there are no enforceable private rights of ownership, there is no applicable legal resolution to disputes which occur over the right to possession of such artefacts. If there is no legal framework within which such disputes can be settled, ethical considerations may lead to resolutions.

Fincham argues that the determinant in restitution cases should be a 'just' (Fincham, 2012: 5) solution: the objective of a 'just' solution founded on ethical grounds to questions of entitlement is one worthy of pursuit but very difficult to define. There is an intrinsic tension between the desire of 'source' nation states to retain their cultural property and that of the 'market' nation states, foreign museums and collectors that wish to possess it. Internal demand for cultural property in source nations is outstripped by external demand; for example, Egypt and India are rich in cultural artefacts which are in great demand in the global market. In market nations, such as the United States and Switzerland, internal demand exceeds supply. This tension has produced a binary divide between those who support restitution to source nations as a matter of right and those who support the need for dispersal of knowledge on a global basis.

The nationalistic and internationalistic approaches to cultural property illustrate the tension existing between source and market nations with regard to the restitution of antiquities. Both approaches are seemingly contaminated by self-interest and neither provides an objectively solid ethical platform upon which to base decisions.

Merryman has developed a tripartite approach which concentrates on the object under consideration rather than the source or market nation. He places emphasis on 'three conceptually separate but, in practice, interdependent considerations: preservation, truth and access, in declining order of importance' (Merryman, 1994: 64). The most important objective is to protect the artefact and its context. Secondly, obtain the truth about the artefact by exploring 'valid information about the human past, for the historical, scientific, cultural and aesthetic truth that the object and its context can provide' (Merryman, 1994: 64). Thirdly, the artefact should be 'accessible to scholars (for study) and to the public (for education and enjoyment)' (Merryman, 1994: 64). In circumstances where neither a nationalistic or internationalist approach is successful, Merryman's triad appears to provide the most useful approach upon which to base ethical principles on the restitution of antiquities. This will allow a case-by-case analysis of the best disposition of each disputed artefact, taking into account all of the factors applying to the case. This focus on the artefact removes the decision from the political arena and may provide a more ethical basis on which to base a decision.


Case Study I: The Parthenon Marbles

The Parthenon Marbles (the 'Marbles') form an iconic group of disputed antiquities. They are a group of marble sculptures taken from the Athenian Acropolis in the early nineteenth century by Lord Bruce of Elgin. In July 1801 Elgin obtained a firman which gave his workmen permission to access the Acropolis where they obtained the Marbles; this declared that no one should 'hinder them from taking away any (qualche) pieces of stone' (Select Committee, 1816: 69). Qualche was interpreted by Elgin's agents to mean 'any' but this word can also be translated as 'some'. Some scholars take the view that the firman did not grant to Elgin the rights he exercised and that he exceeded the authority granted, but there is no clear evidence of illegality (e.g. St. Clair, 1998: 89; Merryman, 1985: 1899).

The Marbles now reside in the British Museum's Duveen Gallery, shown in Figure 3. Although the British Museum has not returned fragments to Athens, other institutions, such as Heidelberg University, have done so. There have been many demands that the British Marbles be reunited with the remaining pieces held in Athens, displayed in the new purpose-built, 'state-of-the-art' Acropolis Museum, and there are numerous worldwide organisations lobbying for the restitution of the Marbles to Greece.

Figure 3: The Parthenon Marbles on display in the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum

Figure 3: The Parthenon Marbles on display in the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum

The arguments for the restitution of the British Museum holdings are based on artistic and ethical grounds as legislative provisions have proved unhelpful. UNESCO 1970 and UNIDROIT 1995 are inapplicable as they do not apply retrospectively. Without the repeal of the British Museum Act 1963 the Marbles cannot be returned as the Museum trustees are legally bound to retain them.

The Greek claim for restitution indicates that they feel the Marbles are unique in that they are not independent works of art but integral parts of a larger monument. By emphasising the intertwined nature of the parts of the sculptures in forming a whole narrative, as seen by Pheidias, and the unique problem they pose, it appears that the Greeks hope that encyclopaedic museums will not fear it being seen as a precedent leading to more requests for restitution.

Figure 4: Parthenon frieze on display at the Acropolis Museum -

Figure 5: Parthenon metopes on display at the Acropolis Museum -

Figure 6: Pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon on display at the Acropolis Museum -

Figure 7: Pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon displayed at the British Museum

Figure 7: Pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon displayed at the British Museum

The British Museum has also been criticised for its conservation techniques (Divari-Valakou, 2008). In 1937-38 the Marbles were cleaned with wire brushes (Letter from Dr R.D. Barnett to the Director of the British Museum, 9 Feb 1984, see Jenkins, 2001: 45). This treatment of the Marbles has been used as a counterclaim against those who argue that they have been safer in London than they would have been had they remained in Athens. Nonetheless the Greeks assert that their new museum is now better equipped to care for the Marbles (Hitchens, 2008: 87f.).

The majority of calls for the repatriation of the Marbles are made on sentimental, nationalistic and political grounds - that they are a vital part of Greek culture and history - and Merryman insists a 'Greek politician who could claim credit for their return would be an instant and enduring national hero' (Merryman, 1985: 1922). An example of such an emotional petition was made by Melina Mercouri, Greek Minister for Culture in 1983, who pleaded 'this is our history, this is our soul. We have fought with you in the second war. Give them back and we will be proud of you. Give them back and they will be in good hands' (speech made at a press conference, reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, 26 May 1983: 26, as cited by Merryman, 1985: 1883). Although this type of passionate request is difficult to ignore, as Merryman argues, 'feeling alone is an unreliable guide to the resolution of important controversies. Our position ought to be based at least in part on reasoned, principled grounds' (Merryman, 1985: 1883). Fincham, however, takes the view that, as the requests will never cease, at some point they will be acceded to (Fincham, 2012: 62).

The Parthenon Marbles have been separated from the Parthenon by the processes of history. The sculptures in both sites have entered the stream of a new cultural reality, both as a part of an accessible encyclopaedic metropolitan collection and now brilliantly displayed near their original site. There are sound academic reasons that the Marbles should be reunited so that they may be appreciated as a whole and not in two different settings. However those in Greece can be appreciated close to their original context, while those in London can be appreciated against the juxtaposition of artefacts from other cultures and other times. Merryman's triad of preservation, study and accessibility can be achieved by leaving them at both sites. In doing so it may be that the peoples of the world have the best possible result.


Case Study II: The Cult Statue of a Goddess

In 1998 a number of artefacts that originated in Morgantina, Sicily, came into the possession of the Californian J. Paul Getty Museum (the 'Getty'), including the 'Cult Statue of a Goddess', otherwise known as the 'Morgantina Venus' or the 'Getty Aphrodite' (shown in Figure 8). This statue is of a female goddess, made of limestone and Parian marble, and dates from 420-410 BC (Marconi, 2007: 10). Some assert that the statue was excavated illegally in Morgantina in 1977-78 and allege that it was sold, via a Sicilian dealer, to Renzo Canavesi (Felch and Frammolino, 2011: 101). This view is supported by the Italian authorities who charged a number of Italians in 1993 with conducting allegedly illegal excavations at Morgantina; two specifically relating to the Cult Statue. In 2001 a court in Sicily gave Canavesi a two-year jail sentence and a 12.7 million lira fine for handling stolen goods, including the Cult Statue. This sentence was later discharged because the conviction was handed down outside the Italian limitation period which, for this crime, is ten years (International Foundation for Art Research, 2012). Canavesi subsequently transferred the property to Robin Symes for $400,000, (News from the Getty, 07/11/2005) supplying a document stating his family had owned the statue since 1939 (Brand, 2007: 2; Felch and Frammolino, 2011: 108). Symes sold the statue to the Getty for $18 million in 1988 (Brand, 2007: 2; Felch and Frammolino, 2011: 101).

Figure 8: The Cult Statue of a Goddess

Figure 8: The Cult Statue of a Goddess

In 2005 the Getty's antiquities curator, Marion True, was charged in Italy with receiving the stolen Cult Statue. True's two-year trial was dismissed on grounds of exceeding the Statute of Limitations, but not before the paparazzi captured images of a world-renowned antiquities expert 'in the dock'. The Getty immediately began an investigation into its acquisition practices and the provenance of the Cult Statue, whilst a seminar of international experts was convened to consider the provenance of the Statue.

A joint statement issued by the Getty and the Italian Ministry of Culture affirmed that the 'Italian government will receive from the Getty a number of very significant objects, including several masterpieces. In return, as a sign of fruitful dialogue and collaboration among the parties, Italy will provide loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance' (News from the Getty, 21/06/2006).

The trial of True and Canesvi eventually 'brought about an unprecedented wave of repatriations - not only by the Getty. Museums have returned to the Italian and Greek governments more than 100 artefacts worth nearly $1 billion' (Frammolino, 2011). These artefacts include 21 (including the Morgantina silver hoard) from the Metropolitan Museum in New York and 13 from the Boston Museum of Fine Art. However the Getty gave back more objects than any other museum: 47, nearly a dozen of them masterpieces. In this case study, against the background of UNESCO 1970 and with strong evidence of illegal export, the Italian state was able to exert irresistible pressure on the Getty.

David Bomford, speaking on behalf of the Getty, announced at the opening of the Aidone Gallery that in future there will be 'several collaborations, which will include loans, conservation, and exhibitions celebrating Sicily's history and cultural contributions, and introducing the region to new audiences in Los Angeles and throughout the world' (News from the Getty, 17/05/2011). The Getty is hoping therefore to benefit by receiving loans of artefacts which previously it would not to be able to acquire and will share knowledge on seismic protection of objects - a problem existing in California and Italy.

Where there is evidence of the illegal acquisition and the threat of criminal charges, there is little to be gained by the holding Museum and much to be lost by it in terms of reputation and status by refusing restitution. In these circumstances ethical considerations are irrelevant and nationalistic interests are supported by the legal provisions. Source nations can learn much from the Italian approach of offering real benefits to the museums in the form of collaborative partnerships if they cooperate in the restitution of the artefact.


Case Study III: The Kos Mosaics

This final case study concerns thirty mosaics brought over from Kos and reused on the floors of the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John on the Aegean island of Rhodes. In 1927 (Myres, 1941: 148) and 1933 (Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1946: 29) earthquakes in the Aegean area uncovered a large number of archaeological remains on the island of Kos. The Dodecanese Islands were at that time under the control of the Italian government as the second Treaty of Lausanne (Article 15) gave the Italians full possession of the Dodecanese in 1923. An Italian team of archaeologists, led by Morricone, travelled to Kos to examine the exposed artefacts and buildings (Morricone, 1975). He documented many of his finds in a photographic record which is kept at the Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene. It is unclear how the excavations were conducted and no records, apart from Morricone's brief notes, can be identified which describe the findings. Megaw noted in 1936 that 'excavations have been conducted on a large scale' (Megaw, 1936: 154) on the island of Kos.

At least thirty mosaics and several marble statues from the first century BC to the third century AD found their way from Kos to Rhodes by 1937, examples of which are shown in Figures 9-13. The mosaics and statues were incorporated into the design for a reconstructed Byzantine building in the centre of Rhodes Town, now known as the Palace of the Grand Masters. The Palace had been destroyed in an explosion in 1856 (Myres, 1941: 152), but was reconstructed by the Italian government 'to serve as a summer residence for Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel of Italy' (Schoener, 1967: 168; Petsa-Tzounakou, 1996: 20).

Figure 9: Mosaic of Medusa, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 9: Mosaic of Medusa, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 10: Mosaic of Seahorse and Nymph, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 10: Mosaic of Seahorse and Nymph, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 11: Mosaic of the Nine Muses, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 11: Mosaic of the Nine Muses, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 12: Mosaic of Gladiator and Tiger, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 12: Mosaic of Gladiator and Tiger, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 13: Statue from the Odeon, Kos, in the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

Figure 13: Statue from the Odeon, Kos, in the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

The responsibility of designing the new Palace was given to architect Vittorio Mesturino in 1937 (Kollias, 1991: 137); he is said to have 'catered rather to the megalomania of the fascist governor, de Vecchi, than the demands of scholarly precision' (Kollias, 1991: 137). Mesturino's design incorporates the Kos mosaics as the principal floor coverings of the first floor of an ostensibly medieval castle. The first century statues from the Odeon at Kos (Petsa-Tzounakou, 1996: 20) are installed in ground floor niches, shown in Figure 13, part-exposed to the open-air and adjacent to statues of Crusader Knights. Along with decorative objects such as carved wooden furniture, tapestries and vases from Italy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the impression given by the Palace is of an 'open-air museum' (Fuller, 2007: 79).

This case study differs from the previous two in that there is very little information available and no media publicity whatsoever relating to the mosaics. There is little documentary evidence of the source of these pieces. There is a suggestion by Petsa-Tzounakou that some may be from other Dodecanese islands (Petsa-Tzounakou, 1996: 123). Consequently scholars have been 'unable to undertake substantive research' on the restored buildings 'because many of the documents have been destroyed, or dispersed, and those still available - some owned by private citizens and others kept in the archives of the library of the Archaeological Society in Rhodes - have not yet been organised and made available to researchers' (Antoniades, 1984: 18).

No complaint can be found relating to the harm caused to the sites in Kos which were irrevocably damaged by the removal of the mosaics and statues. No nation has made vociferous protests about their removal from their original site and there has been no nationalistic demand for restitution or international interest. The simple reason for this appears to be that the site to which the mosaics were taken is within the same state where they were originally sited (both are now part of Greece). Yet the opportunity to study the context in which the mosaics were originally integrated has been lost and the original location for the majority of mosaics is unknown.

Sirano has shown how important contextual studies are in interpreting the nature of archaeological sites in Kos (Sirano, 2005: 145-162). The context within which an item is found enables a valuable 'reading' (Hodder and Hutson, 2003: 5) to be made of it. By looking at the relationship between such factors as material, subject matter, orientation, layout and techniques used in the immediate surroundings, a deeper understanding can be made of the remains and the culture which produced them. Not only can this not be undertaken in Kos as the mosaics have been moved, but not even a 'virtual' reconstruction can be made as the exact location of each mosaic cannot be identified. Merryman's second principle of ensuring that artefacts must be able to be researched and documented has not been achieved.

This case study illustrates a different aspect to restitution. The reconstruction work of the Italian fascists in Rhodes has become a subject of study in itself, as it has been recognised that the 'Italian fascist state created extraordinary architecture in the Greek islands of the Dodecanese' (Antoniades, 1984: 18). As Stanley-Price had argued, an 'argument can be made for retaining erroneous reconstructions carried out in the past, on the basis that they possess their own value in reflecting the history of taste and ideas' (Stanley-Price, 2005: 42). The reuse of the mosaics and statues at Rhodes can be seen as representing a part of the historical continuum in the Dodecanese and their removal back to Kos would destroy evidence of the 1930's architectural experiment. The mosaics, like the Quadriga and the Parthenon Marbles, may have entered a new cultural context.


The Way Forward

The applicable national, international, legal and ethical policies on the restitution of antiquities are 'in their present states, crude and incomplete' (Merryman, 1994: 72). The discussion of the case studies above illustrates the diverse difficulties faced by those responsible for the preservation of antiquities. In cases where there is evidence of illegality, such as with the Getty Cult Statue, it appears that media publicity and legal pressure together with opportunities for collaborative partnerships will convince museums to return artefacts. However this is leading to the disappearance of collectable items from the public domain and Gill has pointed out that 'museums are no longer willing to take a risk on making an acquisition that has the potential of attracting considerable adverse publicity' (Gill, 2009: paragraph 2).

The result may be that such artefacts end up in the hands of private collectors. As Christian Elwes, of London dealer Entwistle, explained: 'Consignors are less likely to go to auction houses, so the market will move away from the more public platform' (The Art Newspaper, 24 January 2011). The post-1970 laws and treaties and an aggressive, nationalistic, legislative approach has served only to push trade underground and ensure that artefacts remain hidden from public view. Merryman has commented that if 'one set out to design a system that would discourage a licit market and encourage a black market, it would be difficult to improve on the present one' (Merryman, 2005: 32).

Where illegality is not proved the situation is less certain, as can be seen with the Parthenon Marbles. Research into the provenance of the Morgantina artefacts displayed in the Getty has shown that they were covertly looted for their monetary value - this was not the case with the Marbles; they were taken by Elgin in an overt manner. In these instances Merryman's tripartite approach of ensuring 'Preservation, Truth and Access' may be appropriate on a case-by-case basis - ensuring that the antiquities can be preserved, studied and displayed for all.

The reliance on a nationalistic approach leaves some artefacts, such as the Kos mosaics, with no champion to plead their cause. Yet the case for leaving the mosaics as a product of the cultural identity of the Dodecanese in the 1930s is valid, just as the Marbles residing in the British Museum can be seen as a product of the Enlightenment. The Marbles can be seen in a similar light to the Kos mosaics; their movement was a product of their era. Disturbing the Marbles now by repatriation may, despite the protestations of the Greek government as to the uniqueness of the situation, set a precedent which could lead to the demise of the encyclopaedic museums and their diverse collections.

It may be that a system of shared exhibitions is the most suitable manner in which museums can retain their encyclopaedic function and increase understanding of other cultures, as seen in the partnerships successfully negotiated by the Getty.

UNESCO 1970 Article 2, recognising that international co-operation is one of the most efficient means of protecting cultural property, has proved a sound recommendation. Nevertheless, the United Nations Agenda Item on Restitution, due to be discussed in 2015, shows very clearly that the tension between source and market nations is still palpable and compromise is not on the nationalistic agenda; it remains a dynamic situation.



List of Illustrations

Figure 1: Bronze Quadriga on display at St. Mark's Basilica, Venice. Image obtained from on 4 December 2012.

Figure 2: Drawing by Nicholas Blakey - 'An Allegory on Poetic Inspiration with Mercury and Apollo.' © Trustees of the British Museum.

Figure 3: The Parthenon Marbles on display in the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum. Image obtained from on 18/02/13.

Figure 4: Parthenon frieze on display at the Acropolis Museum.

Figure 5: Parthenon metopes on display at the Acropolis Museum.

Figure 6: Pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon on display at the Acropolis Museum.

Figure 7: Pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon displayed at the British Museum. Author's own photograph.

Figure 8: Cult Statue of a Goddess. Image obtained from on 04/02/13.

Figure 9: Mosaic of Medusa, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes. Author's own photograph.

Figure 10: Mosaic of Seahorse and Nymph, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes. Author's own photograph.

Figure 11: Mosaic of the Nine Muses, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes. Author's own photograph.

Figure 12: Mosaic of Gladiator and Tiger, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes. Author's own photograph.

Figure 13: Statue from the Odeon, Kos, in the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes. Author's own photograph.



[1] Sarah has just graduated with a First in her BA in Classics at Warwick and will continue her research at Lincoln College, Oxford next year.



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Homer (1961), Iliad, trans. R. Lattimore, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

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