Greece is seeking repatriation of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum, taken from the Parthenon by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin. Since 1816, the British Museum has held the Parthenon Marbles ("In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by some, while other critics compared The British Consul at Greece Elgin's actions to vandalism or looting", text from the Marbles article), and, despite the tortuous and ill-explained path from Greece to England, the museum strongly defends its right to own and display the marbles.
“I think the Yale case is a good one as a model in some ways because it was resolved diplomatically; it wasn’t resolved through legal decisions,” said Richard Burger, chairman of the Council of Archaeological Studies at Yale and a former curator at the Peabody Museum, who was part of the talks. A committee of Yale scholars and officials from Peru’s Culture Ministry oversee the museum.

In 2004 the US passed the Bill HR1047 for the Emergency Protection for Iraq Cultural Antiquities Act, which allows the President authority to impose emergency import restrictions by Section 204 of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCIPA).[32] In 2003, Britain and Switzerland put into effect statutory prohibitions against illegally exported Iraqi artifacts. In the UK, the Dealing in Cultural Objects Bill was established in 2003 that prohibited the handling of illegal cultural objects.
Conservation issues of Pompeii and Herculaneum Conservation-restoration of Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez Conservation-restoration of The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins Conservation-restoration of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper Conservation-restoration of the Shroud of Turin Conservation-restoration of the Sistine Chapel frescoes Conservation-restoration of the Statue of Liberty Conservation-restoration of the H.L. Hunley Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative

Both parties have put forward strong arguments in favor and against the return of the artefacts, but it is not my purpose to judge their validity in any detail here. The essential summary is that the works of art were sold or donated to the Museum of Lleida by nuns from Sixena during the last years of General Franco’s dictatorship. The formality of these purchases and donations is, however, questioned by the Aragon authorities. It may not be a clear-cut case, but it is one that deserves a settlement in a context of institutional normality, in which the Catalan government can defend its own interests.

"The government, the legitimate government of Greece gave permission for those to be taken at the time - now, it was a Turkish government of occupation, you could argue, but it was legally done," said Kimerly Rorsarch, director of the Seattle Art Museum and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors. "There's documentation, permission was given. They were openly removed, they weren't dug up out of the ground clandestinely. You know, how do you go back? I mean, throughout history, wars, disruption, things have changed hands in distressing ways."
In 1863 US President Abraham Lincoln summoned Francis Lieber, a German-American jurist and political philosopher, to write a legal code to regulate Union soldiers' behavior toward Confederation prisoners, noncombatants, spies and property. The resulting General Orders No.100 or the Lieber Code, legally recognized cultural property as a protected category in war.[30] The Lieber Code had far-reaching results as it became the basis for the Hague Convention of 1907 and 1954 and has led to Standing Rules of Engagement (ROE) for US troops today.[31] A portion of the ROE clauses instruct US troops not to attack "schools, museums, national monuments, and any other historical or cultural sites unless they are being used for a military purpose and pose a threat".[31]
In rare cases, a repatriation is arranged so that a collector knowingly buys works identified as stolen to protect them from being further damaged or broken up. That happened in 1985, when the art collector Dominique de Menil bought some 13th-century Byzantine frescoes from a Turkish art dealer after the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and government officials there identified them as having been stolen.
Drawing on careful legal research, the book’s central chapters argue that the laws governing the movement of antiquities today are political constructs heavily influenced by nation-states. Over the past three and a half decades, the conventions of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have increasingly favored the narrow interests of countries like Greece, China, Turkey, and Egypt that lay claim to particular artifacts. They make these claims not out of concern for the welfare of the works themselves, but to assert their authority over, and to profit from, riches originating in their territories. In turn, they incorporate these artifacts into national “histories” that, not coincidentally, exclude ethnic minori­ties and shore up the power of ruling parties.

Impressive in its grasp of historical and political issues, ranging across anthropology, archaeology, and law, Cuno’s book evinces careful thought about the implications of antiquities trafficking across many eras. Yet it also raises complicated questions that will surely provoke further debate within the art community. Most important, the dichotomy between tribal nation-states and cosmopolitan museums cannot be so simple as Cuno pretends. The encyclopedic museum is, after all, a product, even an instrument, of modern national and imperial interests. The Louvre was populated by Napo­leon’s rapacious plunder, then used as a political tool to demonstrate France’s dominance in the theater of Europe. And who can walk the halls of the British Museum without thinking of the empire on which the sun never set? A related question that could be posed by nation-states demanding restitution of valuable artifacts is: If encyclopedic museums are truly institutions of “international, indeed universal aspirations,” then why are they located primarily in powerful First World countries? Cuno advocates their extension to nations all over the globe, but the fact is that no such collection will be coming to the Darfur region anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, the encyclopedic museum and policies that promote it will chiefly serve rich Westerners.


Napoleon continued his art conquests in 1798 when he invaded Egypt in an attempt to safeguard French trade interests and to undermine Britain's access to India via Egypt. His expedition in Egypt is noted for the 167 "savants" he took with him including scientists and other specialists equipped with tools for recording, surveying and documenting ancient and modern Egypt and its natural history.[19] Among other things, the expedition discoveries included the Rosetta Stone and the Valley of the Kings near Thebes. The French military campaign was short-lived and unsuccessful and the majority of the collected artifacts (including the Rosetta Stone) were seized by British troops, ending up in the British Museum. Nonetheless, the information gathered by the French expedition was soon after published in the several volumes of Description de l'Égypte, which included 837 copperplate engravings and over 3,000 drawings. In contrast to the disapproving public reaction to the looting of Italian works of art, the appropriation of Egyptian art saw widespread interest and fascination throughout Europe, inciting a phenomenon which came to be called "Egyptomania".[20]
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