Elgin Marbles: British Museum lends statue of god Ilissos to Russia's Hermitage

It is the first time one of the relics, the ownership of which remains disputed by Greece, has left Britain

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The Independent Culture

One of the Elgin Marbles is to leave Britain for the first time since the relics were brought here to go on display in Russia.

A headless statue of the river god Ilissos has been loaned by the British Museum to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and will be on view there until mid-January.

It is one of the artefacts found in the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece nearly 2,500 years ago. Known collectively as the Elgin Marbles, the pieces were acquired by Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and brought to this country.

Britain’s ownership of the Marbles is disputed by Greece which claims Lord Elgin removed them illegally while the country was under Turkish occupation as part of the Ottoman Empire.

It has requested that the Marbles should be returned for display in a new Athens museum - which the British Museum and the Government reject.

Hollywood actor George Clooney's new wife, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, renewed the country's plea for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens in October.

"The British Museum is a museum of the world, for the world and nothing demonstrates this more than the loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary," Neil MacGregor wrote in a blog on the British Museum’s website.

"The trustees have always believed that such loans must continue between museums in spite of political disagreements between governments,” MacGregor continued.

"So, when our colleagues at the Hermitage asked if we might also make an important loan to celebrate their 250th anniversary, the trustees immediately answered Yes. And no loan could more fittingly mark the long friendship of our two houses, or the period of their founding, than a sculpture from the Parthenon."