Turkey demands return of its 'Elgin marble'

V&A holds carved head removed from sarcophagus by Britain's consul-general in 1882

Turkey is demanding the return of an ancient marble head, now languishing in the stores of a London museum, which was taken from Anatolia more than a century ago.

The Turkish culture ministry has asked the Victoria and Albert Museum to return a 1,700-year-old life-sized marble carving of a child's head, described as bearing a likeness to Eros, the Greek god of love.

Tolga Tuyluoglu, the director of Turkey's culture and tourism office in London, said: "The Turkish ministry of culture thinks this item belongs to Turkey. We believe if an item has been removed from a country then it should be returned to the original place."

In 1882, the archaeologist Sir Charles Wilson, then Britain's consul-general in Anatolia, removed the head from the Sidamara Sarcophagus, a huge tomb dating from the third century, which he had excavated. The sarcophagus, which now sits in Istanbul's Museum of Archaeology, is one of the finest and most widely known of its type and period.

Sir Charles, who served in the Royal Engineers, conducted archaeological surveys in Palestine and Lebanon before moving to Anatolia, which corresponds to most of present-day Turkey, in 1879. He removed the head from the Sidamara Sarcophagus, which he then re-covered in the hope of acquiring the whole object. The head is that of a child with curly hair looking over his shoulder. Sir Charles's family later donated the head to the V&A, where it is held in the museum's stores.

"It's a complicated issue," said Mr Tuyluoglu. "There are many agreements between the two countries. We are discussing the matter." The Turkish government wrote to the V&A last year, Mr Tuyluoglu said, but had still not managed to acquire the object. He said the culture ministry was "working hard" for the return of such objects but denied it had been attempting to win favour with voters ahead of the country's June general election.

The V&A's acquisition and disposal policy states that objects can be disposed of if they are "unsuitable for retention" and if their disposal will be "without detriment to the interests of students and other members of the public".

"There has been a request from the Turkish government," a V&A spokeswoman said. "As a national museum the V&A is governed by UK law on disposal of objects from the collection. However, the V&A is considering the request seriously."

A diplomatic minefield

Should Turkey's demand for the return of the missing stone head develop into the kind of row that still surrounds the Elgin marbles, it could have broad ramifications. As Turkey seeks EU membership, co-operation in the fields of art and history is seen as a key element of diplomacy, leading the British artist Mark Wallinger to be commissioned last year to create a temporary cinema for the Turkish city of Canakkale as a symbol of goodwill. "Discussions about Turkey's joining the EU are intense and can be fraught, but without a cultural dimension they lack depth," the British Council's David Codling said at the time. "The arts, in this instance, provide a forum for debate within and between countries."

Rob Hastings

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    PPC Co-Ordinator – Permanent - West Sussex – £24-£30k

    £24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...

    Senior Asset Manager

    £70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

    Special Needs Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: Special needs teachers required! Sh...

    EBD Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: EBD teachers re West Midlands

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor