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Fresh Elgin Marbles row as Greece accuses British Museum of having ‘zero respect’ with Lily James fashion show

Greek minister called the London Fashion Week ‘an insult’

Barney Davis
Monday 19 February 2024 21:22 GMT
Lily James was pictured posing in front of the artefacts
Lily James was pictured posing in front of the artefacts (AFP/Getty)

The British Museum has been dragged into a fresh row over the Elgin Marbles after models strutted down a runway next to the contested masterpieces.

The London Fashion Week event, attended by actor Lily James and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, saw pieces from designer Erdem Moralioglu’s Autumn/Winter 2024 collection shown off in front of the artefacts originally taken by Lord Elgin from the Acropolis in Greece.

Outraged Greek minister of culture Lina Mendoni said Saturday’s runway proves that the museum has “zero respect” for the statues, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, and they should be returned to their country of origin.

Lily James was a guest at the Erdem Moralioglu’s Autumn/Winter 2024 collection (Getty )

“By organising a fashion show in the halls where the Parthenon Sculptures are exhibited, the British Museum, once again, proves its zero respect for the masterpieces of Pheidias,” she said in a statement.

“The directors of the British Museum trivialise and insult not only the monument but also the universal values that it transmits.”

Models walk the runway in the finale at the ERDEM show during London Fashion Week (Getty )

Dr Mendoni added: “The conditions of display and storage of the sculptures, at the Duveen Gallery, are constantly deteriorating. It is time for the stolen and abused sculptural masterpieces to shine in the Attic light.”

Sources at the museum defended the show, telling the Telegraph that fashion giant Dior held a photo shoot at the Athens landmark the Acropolis in 2021.

The Elgin Marbles on display at the British Museum (Matthew Fearn/PA) (PA)

Greece has long demanded the return of the historic works, which were removed by Lord Elgin from occupied Athens in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Part of the friezes that adorned the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis, the Elgin Marbles have been displayed at the British Museum in London for more than 200 years. Most of the remaining sculptures are in a purpose-built museum in Athens.

Rishi Sunak sparked a diplomatic row with Greece after refusing to meet its prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, when he compared the artefacts’ removal to cutting the Mona Lisa in half.

Lord Frost, who previously served as chief Brexit negotiator, told parliament in November: “I do think that Lord Elgin’s actions possibly were a little murky, but I do think nevertheless our legal case is good. I also think it’s not the point. The point is what we do now rather than what happened in the past.

“I have never personally been so convinced by the moral, artistic and cultural arguments for the position we take. I think the Parthenon Marbles are a special situation and we should try and find a special solution.”

Cautioning against a loan to Athens which “keeps the issue and the arguments alive”, he pressed for a permanent settlement with the formation of a new Anglo-Greek cultural partnership to the benefit of both nations.

He added: “They aren’t just random museum exhibits. For as long as they are not seen as a whole they are less than the sum of their parts.”

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