Home » London Fashion Week show reignites Elgin Marbles row with Greece

London Fashion Week show reignites Elgin Marbles row with Greece

Greece’s Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni has reacted angrily to a decision to stage a London Fashion Week show at the British Museum using the so-called Elgin Marbles as a backdrop.

British designer Erdem Moralioglu chose the location of the room housing the Parthenon sculptures at the museum to present the autumn-winter collection of his brand Erdem, inspired by Greek singer Maria Callas and her 1953 interpretation of the opera Medea.

The sculptures, originally crafted by the ancient Greek painter and architect Pheidias, were removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin.

Athens maintains the marbles, which bring tens of thousands of visitors to London’s British Museum each year, were stolen, while the UK claims they were obtained legally.

“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,” Ms Mendoni said.

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

“The conditions of display and storage of the sculptures, at the Duveen Gallery, are constantly deteriorating,” she added, calling for the “stolen and abused sculptural masterpieces” to be returned to Greece.

A diplomatic row ignited late last year when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his “displeasure” over his British counterpart Rishi Sunak’s last-minute cancellation of a meeting that was supposed to cover the dispute over the Elgin Marbles.

It is believed Mr Sunak cancelled the meeting after comments from Mr Mitsotakis in an interview the previous day, that having some of the marbles in London and others in Athens was “like cutting the Mona Lisa in half”.

The British Museum is under pressure to return other foreign antiquities, after the Netherlands repatriated six valuable artefacts, including a cannon inlaid with gold, silver and bronze, taken from Sri Lanka during its colonial period on the island 250 years ago.

Other contested objects in the museum include the Benin Bronzes from what is now Nigeria, the Rosetta Stone from Egypt and two stone moai from Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.

Mr Moralioglu said he wanted to show his designs in a space that would capture the essence of Callas’s “Greekness”. She was born in New York to Greek parents but trained and lived in Greece. She died in 1977 in Paris aged 53.

“I was interested in the idea of someone starting off somewhere and ending up somewhere else,” Mr Moralioglu said backstage at his show.

He said part of his inspiration came from a photograph he had seen of a Greek flag draped over the urn containing Callas’s ashes being returned to Greece.

Updated: February 19, 2024, 12:33 PM