Vatican fragment from Parthenon Frieze is returned

Following only a few weeks after the return of the Palermo Fragment from the Parthenon Frieze, the Vatican has also returned a fragment from the frieze.

Vatican returns Parthenon fragment to Greece
The Associated Press
Published: November 5, 2008

ATHENS, Greece: The ancient marble head of a youth was fitted into place Wednesday at a museum in Athens in a deal that Greek officials hope will serve as a model for returning other treasures.

The one-year loan from the Vatican's Museo Gregoriano Etrusco could be used as a way to regain other iconic Parthenon sculptures that have been systematically removed from Greece in the past. Several European museums — especially the British Museum in London — hold Parthenon artifacts and Greece has long campaigned for their return.
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"This gesture sets an example for others," Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said.

The Parthenon was built 2,500 years ago on the Acropolis in honor of Athena, goddess of wisdom and patron of ancient Athens. It survived virtually intact until 1687, when a Venetian army besieging the Acropolis blew it up with cannon fire during the Ottoman occupation of Greece.

More than a century after the blast, Britain's Lord Elgin removed large sections of the temple's sculptural decoration with Ottoman permission. He eventually sold the works to the British Museum.

Greece has long campaigned for the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles. However, the British Museum has refused, arguing that the works were legally acquired and are accessible free of charge to millions of visitors.

The museum said Wednesday its position on the Elgin Marbles was unchanged by the return of the youth's head.

"We don't think it increases pressure on the British Museum," spokeswoman Hannah Boulton said, adding the Vatican's return was "just a loan."

About half the Parthenon frieze is at the British Museum. A handful of other museums, including the Louvre, own small pieces of it as well, while the remaining fragments are in a new museum under the Acropolis.

The sculpture returned Wednesday was made between 445-438 B.C.. It was part of a 520-foot (160-meter) series of panels — known as a frieze — depicting a religious procession, which circled the outer walls of the Parthenon.

The head, measuring nine by 10 inches (24 by 25 centimeters), is attached to a youth carrying a tray of sweets as an offering to Athena.

Giandomenico Spinola, the head of the Vatican museum's classical antiquities department, said the loan of the sculpture "might" be renewed. He said the museum might also lend Greece another two small bits of the Parthenon sculptures it owns.

"The pieces are the property of the pope, and it is his decision," he said. Pope Benedict XVI discussed the works' return with the visiting Church of Greece leader in 2006.

A similar deal allowed the return in September of another small piece of the Parthenon frieze from a museum in Palermo, Sicily, and the University of Heidelberg in Germany sent back a third piece two years ago.

The Museo Gregoriano Etrusco is the largest museum so far to comply with the Greek request.

The move to regain the works has gained new momentum in recent years because of the construction of the New Acropolis Museum, which is expected to open by next March.

Read the original article on the International Herald Tribune website.

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