Elgin Marbles on the move as British Museum ponders new Reading Room role

 

The Reading Room at the heart of the British Museum’s Great Court was hailed as one of Britain’s most majestic sights following its completion in 1857.

Now the institution is considering reinventing the majestic dome, with its famous benches extended outward like spokes in a wheel, as a space to display some of the most important artefacts marking civilisation’s development.

The Museum is considering new uses for the Reading Room, which opened to the public in 2000 after its restoration, including a permanent exhibition space which might showcase a “brief history of the world”, through a limited number of important pieces held in the Museum collection.

Neil MacGregor, British Museum director, said: “The Reading Room is currently completing restoration work and then we will consult widely about its future use. It is listed so we will need planning permission for any major works.”

The completion of the Museum’s new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre this Summer means the Reading Room, which once granted user tickets to Karl Marx and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, need no longer be used as a temporary home for special exhibitions.

Since its 2000 restoration, the vast dome has housed a modern information centre and a collection of 25,000 books, catalogues and other printed material, which focused on the world cultures represented in the Museum.

The Museum attracted a record 6.8 million visitors last year with successful exhibitions on the Vikings, housed in the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Centre as well as its Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum collection, which was seen by 471,000 people.

Mr MacGregor is determined to bring wider public access to the treasures in the Museum’s permanent collection, which he called “our real blockbuster exhibition”.

A major exhibition examining the Greek body next Spring will include objects from the Museum’s extensive collection of Greek and Roman sculpture alongside key loans.

The sculptures will include some of the Elgin marbles which have not been separated since being housed in their current gallery in 1962.

A frieze which forms part of the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon in Athens, on display at the British Museum (Getty) A frieze which forms part of the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon in Athens, on display at the British Museum (Getty)
“The museum houses the most important collection of sculpture in the world and we want to improve the display and to allow a greater dialogue between the sculptures of different cultures,” Mr MacGregor said.

But he said this was not a “use them or lose them” approach to the Parthenon sculptures, which were taken from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and have been the subject of fierce argument between the countries over their return ever since. The museum regularly lends artefacts to Greece, Mr MacGregor added.

The public would have to pay to see some items, currently viewed for free in the permanent collection galleries, if they are moved for inclusion in the Greek body exhibition, Mr MacGregor said.

The new Sainsbury’s space will also house “Ming: the 50 years that changed China”, a major exhibition on the Ming dynasty featuring extensive loans from China, which the Museum hopes will also prove a crowd-puller.

With museums and galleries facing a real terms government funding cut of 30%, Niall Fitzgerald, the Museum’s outgoing chairman, warned that ongoing public support was vital. He said: “We have increased our income-generating activity but it’s predicated on baseline funding from government. The government must do its bit to back culture. It must not retreat from its role as a defender of the Arts.”

The British Museum, which now has 575,000 Facebook followers, was the world’s leading lender of objects last year with 5,000 objects travelling to 335 venues in the UK and internationally.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture