A prestigious arts columnist for London’s daily Guardian newspaper just returned from a trip to Greece— a monumental trip, as he himself notes in his Guardian blog column. The topic of the marbles has been the subject of debates and numerous books, including a groundbreaking case made by the late writer and activist Christopher Hitchens in “The Parthenon Marbles: The Case for Reunification.”
“These consummately beautiful sculptures demand a proper setting – and a trip to Athens has convinced me the Acropolis Museum is that place”
He goes on to call the Parthenon Marbles— stripped from the temple in the 1800s by a British diplomat and sent to London— “the world’s most beautiful art,” with only a handful of rivals including pieces by DaVinci and Michaelangelo.
“But the sculptures of the Parthenon were created 2,000 years before the masterpieces of the Renaissance. They have a life, energy, calm and grandeur all their own. The figures of reclining goddesses from the east pediment, for instance, are daunting yet yielding syntheses of mass and grace that are more like dreams than objects. The veins that throb on the horse-flanks of a centaur; the pathos of animals lowing at the sky as they are led to be sacrificed; such details add up to a consummate beauty that is, I repeat, rivalled only by the greatest art of the Renaissance.”
He went on to challenge the British Museum and the location the marbles are currently displayed.
“If the Sistine Chapel frescoes had been detached from their ceiling in the 19th century and hung on the walls of the National Gallery, would we appreciate them as much? No. We’d struggle to imagine the real power of Michelangelo’s paintings in their original location. We’d miss the thrill of stretching our necks and the excitement of walking through the Vatican to get to them, even the fuss of queuing. Context is all.
“The sad truth is that in the British Museum, the Parthenon sculptures are not experienced at their best. For one thing, they’re shown in a grey, neoclassical hall whose stone walls don’t contrast enough with these stone artworks – it is a deathly space that mutes the greatest Greek art instead of illuminating it. So if the British Museum wants to keep these masterpieces it needs to find the money to totally redisplay them in a modern way.”