British Museum loan to Greece coincides with dispute over Elgin Marbles

Greece wants the Elgin Marbles returned (Matthew Fearn/PA)
Greece wants the Elgin Marbles returned (Matthew Fearn/PA)

Greece’s Acropolis Museum has launched an exhibition that includes a renowned ancient Greek water jug from 420BC on loan from the British Museum.

The exhibit comes during a dispute between the countries over Greek demands for the return of sculptures from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis that are housed in the British Museum.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled a planned meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis in London a week ago, accusing him of seeking to “grandstand” by publicly campaigning for the return of the Elgin Marbles while visiting Britain.

Mr Sunak said his Government has no intention of re-opening the issue or amending legislation that would block the artefacts’ return.

Greece exhibition
The Acropolis Museum will host an exhibition, Meanings, Personifications and Allegories From Antiquity to Today, in Athens (AP)

Mr Mitsotakis described the incident as “an unfortunate moment” but added that the campaign for the marbles’ return had received a boost after Mr Sunak’s cancellation drew international attention.

The British Museum said it is continuing talks with Greek authorities and the Acropolis Museum, raising hopes in Athens that an arrangement could be reached to display the sculptures in Greece.

On Tuesday, Acropolis Museum director Nikolaos Stampolidis said his museum maintained “excellent relations” with the British Museum and expressed confidence that the Parthenon Sculptures would eventually be returned.

“After all, culture is not only about art. It’s also about relationships,” he said.

Elgin Marbles
Greece wants the Elgin Marbles returned (Matthew Fearn/PA)

Excavated in southern Italy, the water jug known as Meidias Hydria, considered to be a masterpiece of the Athenian potter Meidias, became part of the British Museum collection 250 years ago and has not left the London museum until now.

The jug will be displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens through April, when it will move to 2024 Olympics host city Paris to be included in an exhibition at the Louvre Museum.

Just over 50cm (19.5in) in height, the vessel is decorated with scenes from Greek mythology including a depiction of Heracles, the legendary Greek hero renowned for his strength.

The Athens exhibition will open to the public on Thursday.