Friday, February 19, 2010

Prince of Thieves

Enough with the Olympic talk, but not necessary back to reality. How boring would that be? We all wish we were clever as Bugs bunny, capable of outwitting all our enemies with effortless flare. In a few months the public will get another twist on Robin Hood (too bad they changed their original concept of Nottingham), catering to the public subconscious yearnings to castrate white collar thieves who have stripped the population dry.

The British certainly have one of the greatest thieves in history, but it's not Robin Hood.

Elginism - State theft

The interesting point is that the most successful thieves are sanctioned institutions. If you think about it, aren't many of the most famous museums displaying stolen items (and charging us!) acquired from conquests? The Elgin Marbles removed from Greece in 1816 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, Hiram Bingham's pilfering of Machu Picchu, and Getty's acquisition of the stolen Aphrodite statue are just a few examples of state theft. The argument that Elgin's accomplishment led to the preservation of the marbles is also debatable. No one did more damage to the marbles than the Earl of Elgin himself, splitting the artifacts in pieces so that they could be readily shipped to London. I cringe to think about it.

Repatriation? All in the past... not likely

It's certainly true that world class museums can preserve the artifacts with great care and returning artifacts could cause irreparable damage, but that argument will never satisfy or quiet the opposition (especially with the new $200 million state of the art museum in Greece, NY times article). Should museums pay a cut of all the cash they pile in from tourism and copyrights of images? Probably, but they never will. Would equality be if Greece and Egypt began looting the Queen of England's jewels, hawked the Mona Lisa, The Thinker, the declaration of Independence, and hauled it back to their own country charging everybody twenty euros to get a viewing? Sort of sounds fair doesn't it?

Some of the "Acquisitions" of the world

ENGLAND/ U.K. - (British Museum...)
Stolen religious tablets (Ethiopia)
Rosetta Stone (Egypt)
Elgin Marbles (Greece)
Lewis Chessmen (Scotland)
Koh-i-noor diamond (India)
Benin Bronzes (Nigeria) now in Glasgow
Items from Beijing's summer palace & Shanghai (unconfirmed but they should tread lightly with China, they are "officially" starting to research what is missing...)
62 pages of Quran (Turkey)
Stone Carvings & 2,000 stolen items (Afghanistan returned)

GERMANY (Neues Museum, Pergamon...)
Statue of Hemiunu (Egypt)
Boğazköy Sphinx (Turkey)
Zeus Altar (Turkey)

FRANCE - (Louvre...)
Ancient wall paintings (returned to Egypt)
Painted Zodiac of Dendera temple (Egypt)
Entrance of Selim II's Tomb statues (Turkey)
Nike of Samothrace (Greece)

9 boxes of artifacts, pin (Iran)

Sarcophagus from Mahmut Hayrani tomb (Turkey)

The Troy Treasures (Turkey)

Bust of Anchhaf (Egypt)
Sixteen Greek grave Stelae (Turkey)
Machu Picchu artifacts, silver statues & skulls (Peru, in negotiations of return)

National Geographic link (various videos on the issue of ownership)

There are numerous paintings and items taken by the Nazis during the World War II occupation (and being returned) but if any two countries have a reason to be enraged, it's probably Egypt and Greece. Ransacked for years, their collections are decidedly bare with many of their most beautiful ancient artifacts in the possession of foreigners. Fortunately for Egypt the pyramids are not exactly mobile, otherwise I'm sure a conqueror would've hauled it to their own lands as a lawn ornament.