London, Feb. 23: The Elgin marbles will never be returned to Greece, even on loan, the director of the British Museum has said.
In a ruling which will infuriate the Greek authorities, Neil MacGregor — who took over as director of the museum last August — said that the marbles could “do most good” in their current home, where they are seen in a broader historical context.
MacGregor said he wanted the Greek government to accept instead a computer-generated version of what the 2,500-year-old marbles would look like on the Parthenon, from which they were removed between 1801 and 1804 by the 7th Earl of Elgin.
Greece first called for the return of the marbles in 1829 when it won independence from Turkey. The case was put to Harold Macmillan in 1961 and successive Greek governments have used diplomatic channels to exert pressure since then.
MacGregor’s decision ends any hopes that the marbles could be loaned to the Greeks for the Athens Olympics next year and will outrage campaigners who hoped that his appointment marked a change in the museum’s attitude to ownership of the friezes.
Last year, he became the first director of the museum to meet the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. This weekend, however, he announced that he was terminating “substantive discussions” with the group after one meeting.
“I do not believe that there is a case for returning the marbles,” MacGregor said.