Last Sunday, actor George Clooney said that the British Museum should return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, when asked about them by a Greek reporter. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, strongly disagreed.
The Parthenon Marbles are sculptures removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century. Elgin sold a portion of them to the British Museum and they have resided there ever since. Johnson thinks they should stay.
“Someone urgently needs to restore George Clooney’s marbles. ... This Clooney is advocating nothing less than Hitlerian agenda for London’s cultural treasures. He should stuff the Hollywood script and stick to history.”
Clooney responded: “I’m sure my right honourable friend had no real intention of comparing me to Hitler. I’d chalk it up to a little too much hyperbole washed down with a few whiskies.”
The Parthenon Marbles are a hotly debated topic for Greeks and Brits. Their less-than-reputable acquisition is contested by supporters of their return to Greece, including Clooney. “You need only to look at the Unesco ruling that have been agreed to by all parties. An occupying nation can’t sell off the national heritage of the country it occupies,” said Clooney.
Clooney has also said the Louvre should return the Mona Lisa to Italy. Both the Mona Lisa and Marbles comments came during the promotional tour for his film "The Monuments Men," which is about a group of men trying to save art from the Nazis during World War II.
The British Museum has repeatedly argued that the sculptures were legally acquired by Elgin, who was working under the blessings of the Turkish rulers who had control over Athens in Elgin’s time. The British Museum has refused to send the sculptures to Greece in the past. They currently display them for free and they have since become an important piece of the museum's collection.
Clooney, like many scholars, think the Marbles should go to the Acropolis Museum if they are returned to Greece. The 14,000 square meter museum opened to the public in 2009. It holds more than 4,000 artifacts, most from the Acropolis, of which the Parthenon is part of.