Thursday, 31 December 2009

Frank Abney-Hastings Memorial

Frank Abney-Hastings (1794-1828) was one of the most influential of all the philhellenes who fought in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829). A naval tactician he pioneered military techniques and technology to great effect against contingents of the Ottoman fleet and supply chain. Ultimately giving his life fighting for the freedom of the Greek people, he was mortally wounded while leading an attack on a fortification on the island of Anatolikon (modern day Etoliko) expiring several days later on June the 1st 1828.

obverse_sm
Hastings was mourned greatly and given a national funeral. He was interred at the site of the old arsenal on the island of Poros. A site that from 1830 became the home of the Hellenic Navy and is currently a naval training base. A memorial to Hastings has been erected at this site in his memory.

P1000825_cropped_edited_resized

Hastings memorial was commissioned in 1928 by the then minister of the Hellenic Navy Panagiotou Merlopoulou and commemorates the centenary of Hastings death. The memorial is is referred to on a plaque in the Anglican Church of St Pauls Athens, where Hastings heart is immured. The centenary was marked by a service which was attended by Sir Percy Loraine British Ambassador to Greece and other dignitaries.

The memorial carries two plaques which are illustrated below along with a translation of the inscriptions.

P1000822_edited

“ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE
THE CENTENARY OF THE DEATH
OF THE PHILHELLENE
FRANK ABNEY HASTINGS
WHO FOUGHT IN THE HELLENIC NAVY
FOR THE REBIRTH OF GREECE
DONATED IN GRATITUDE BY
THE MINISTER OF THE GREEK NAVY
PANAGIOTOU MERLOPOULOU
JUNE 1928”

P1000823_edited
“IN GLORIOUS MEMORY OF
FRANK ABNEY HASTINGS
WHO GAVE HIS LIFE FOR
THE CAUSE OF GREECE
THIS SITE WAS VISITED IN REMEMBRANCE
ON THE CENTENARY OF HIS DEATH
BY SIR PERCY LORAIN AMBASSADOR TO GREECE
REPRASENTATIVE OF THE KING OF ENGLAND
AND REPRESENTATIVES OF THE BRITISH NAVY”

What a testament to the enduring legacy of Hastings distinguished role in the Greek revolution.

These particular photographs are not licensed for redistribution.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Frank Abney-Hastings Heart and the Anglican Church of Saint Pauls Athens

Frank Abney-Hastings heart is immured in the Anglican Church of Saint Pauls in Athens, Greece. Consecrated in 1843 the church has many monuments of historic interest.

IMG_0222_edited_coloursPhotograph by Mark Notaras

It is my understanding that Hastings heart was in the possession of his great friend George Finlay, philhellene and historian, who served with Hastings aboard the Karteria. On the death of Finlay’s widow, Arthur Hill church warden and treasurer from 1885 to 1903, found the heart in a box at her house. He subsequently had it immured in the west wall of the church, the location of which is marked by a plaque with inscription.

IMG_0227_edited
Photograph by Mark Notaras

“HERE LIES DEPOSITED THE
HEART OF CAPTAIN FRANK
ABNEY HASTINGS, YOUNGER
SON OF LIEUTENANT-GENERAL
SIR CHARLES HASTINGS
BART: WHO, HAVING BEEN
MORTALLY WOUNDED IN AN
ATTACK ON ANATOLIKON
DIED IN ZANTE, ON THE 20TH (OS) 
DAY OF MAY 1828, AGED
34 YEARS. HE WAS BURRIED IN
POROS, WHERE AN OBELISK
IS ERECTED IN THE OLD
ARSENAL TO HIS MEMORY.”

As indicated on the inscription the date of death is in the Old Style or Julian calendar.The 20th of May 1828 converts to the 1st of June 1828 as we would expect. Though it seems there may have been some confusion around the date for the plaque as it appears to have been amended by a stonemason at some point in time.

Among the many other interesting monuments in the church are the stained glass windows in the north and south transepts. Dedicated to Sir Richard Church (1784-1873), commander of the Greek military forces in 1827 during the Greek War of Independence, and statesman thereafter.

IMG_0229_editedPhotograph by Mark Notaras

St Paul’s is located on Philellinon Street about 250 meters south of Syntagma Square and makes a great visit when open during one of the services that are regularly held there. Details of current services can be found on the church gate.


View Larger Map

References
J.W. Day, et al. (1998) “The Anglican Church of Saint Paul’s Athens, A Short History”
Unknown, (1938) “Church Quarterly Review, Volumes 125-126”

The church booklet listed above contains a rich history and can be purchased from the church.

Photographs by Mark Notaras, subject to Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs creative commons licence.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Frank Abney-Hastings

This is a brief history of Frank Abney-Hastings (1794 – 1828), a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy who became a key philhellene in the Greek War of Independence.

571px-Frank_Abney_Hastings_by_Krazeisen

Hastings began his naval career in 1805 as a Volunteer 1st Class in the Royal Navy. Serving aboard the HMS Neptune at the Battle of Trafalgar at the age of just 11, he quickly climbed the ranks to lieutenant. In 1819 he was dismissed for challenging a Captain who had insulted him to a duel and as a consequence of his dismissal sought to continue his career on the continent.

He spent sometime in France where he learnt of the Greek revolution and became determined to join the Greek cause. Resolute that he could bring about a change in the effectiveness of the Greek irregular navy, which at that time was comprised of skilled sailors but lacking in military effectiveness.

In 1822 he landed in Greece on the Island of Hydra. Being one of the early philhellenes, of which the Greeks were suspicious, he was at first treated as a spy and had to persuade Alexander Mavrocordatos of his motives. He was eventually given a position as volunteer aboard the Greek ship Themistocles where he earned great respect through his acts of bravery and tactical prowess.

Hastings went on to become one of the most influential of the philhellenes. He was not only a proficient captain but also a military tactician and engineer with ideas far ahead of his time.

In 1823 Hastings petitioned the Greek Government, through Byron, to provide a war ship to his specifications. He was confident he could use this ship to give Greece the naval superiority needed to support Greece’s irregular land army.

In his memorandum Hastings specified an Iron Clad steamship, armed with fore and aft 32 pounders and two 62 pounder carronades. He specified to use the 32 pounders to fire red-hot shot, a first in naval ordinance and only made feasible by Hastings own innovations, designed to counter the dangers which had previously prevented their use aboard ships.

Hastings innovative vision was difficult to appreciate at the time and it wasn't until a distinct improvement in Ottoman naval operations in 1825, that the Greek contingent turned to the London Greek Committee to fund and organise the ships construction.

The ‘Perseverance’ was finally completed in 1826 and was to become the first steam powered warship ever used in battle. On her maiden voyage to Greece Hastings renamed her to her Greek equivalent the ‘Karteria’.

800px-Karteria

There were some inevitable issues, but it wasn't long before Hastings was proving his ideas in action, using the Karteria to devastating effect. Out manoeuvring and striking the enemy with great precision with destructive fire from explosive shells and red hot shot.

He had great successes against contingents of the Ottoman fleet and supply chain and was eager to encounter a large Ottoman fleet at sea. His only opportunity came however at time when the steam engines of the Karteria had broken down, perhaps Hastings reputation preceding him, the enemy left without an engagement.

Yet indirectly it was to be Hastings that would be a catalyst in a a series of events leading to the annihilation of the entire Ottoman navy at the Battle of Navarino in 1828.

The lead up to the Battle of Navarino is an interesting and relevant topic. The recent alliance of Britain, France and Russia attempted to impose an armistice between Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Greece represented by Alexander Mavrocordatos agreed to the terms of the armistice but Mehmet Ali and the Sultan did not and so hostilities continued on both sides.

The presence of the combined allied fleet commanded by the British Admiral Codrington did however force Ibrahim Pasha to agree to postpone his planned attack on the island of Hydra, the loss of which would have been disastrous to Greece. His fleet blockaded in the bay of Navarino, Ibrahim instead opted for a barbarous land campaign on the Peloponnese.

During this time Hastings continued his operations and though Codrington promised Ibrahim that he would attempt to put an end to the hostilities, a misunderstanding meant that the message was never delivered. In any event Hastings actions were arguably justified, as ultimately the Ottomans had not agreed to the armistice and so the two parties were still at war.

Hastings most notable action during this period was the battle of Salona. Where in the opening stages of the battle after just a few ranging shots, he destroyed the four largest enemy ships in quick succession. The conclusion of the battle saw the total destruction of the Ottoman squadron of seven warships and two transports by the smaller Greek contingent commanded by Hastings.

News of Hastings success at the battle of Salona antagonised Ibrahim into sending out a fleet of twenty six men-of-war to engage Hastings and his squadron. Though the allied fleet was temporarily much diminished Ibrahim’s attempts were successfully repelled by Codrington aided somewhat by gale force winds.

A combination of these actions and the destructive effect of Ibrahim's land campaign led to a distinct rise in tensions. The allies, fearing that unfavourable weather conditions could allow Ibrahim's fleet to evade their blockade, decided to anchor inside the bay of Navarino. The Ottomans were unaware of the allied fleets intentions and almost inevitably the advance escalated into a full scale battle.

800px-Russians_at_navarino

The Battle of Navarino ended in the total annihilation of the Ottoman fleet, a turning point in Greece’s revolution and poignantly the last major naval battle fought entirely by sailing ships. The tide turning in favour of the tactics and technology pioneered by Hastings.

After Navarino Hastings continued his successful naval sorties including the destruction of the fort of Vasiladhi. But he was to give his life for the Greek cause, for on the 25th of May 1828 he was mortally wounded in the arm, from a musket shot while attacking a fortification on the island of Anatolikon (modern day Etoliko) off Mesolonghi.

The Karteria was temporarily lacking a surgeon so an unfamiliar army surgeon was summoned from shore, who determined that the wound was not severe. In the following few days the condition of the wound deteriorated and it was decided that Hastings should be taken aboard the Karteria to Zante, where an amputation would be performed by a competent surgeon. Sadly the severity of the wound was identified too late and Hastings died from tetanus during the voyage.

Hastings was mourned greatly and given a national funeral. He was interred on the island of Poros, at the old arsenal which was to become the home of the Hellenic Navy, a navy which Hastings himself had helped to form. His heart is immured in the Anglican Church of Saint Paul’s, Athens.

A memorial was commissioned by the minister of the Hellenic Navy on the site of the naval base, to commemorate the centenary of Hastings death. Hastings centenary was marked by a ceremony at the site which was attended by Sir Percy Lorain British ambassador to Greece. A testament to the enduring legacy of Frank Abney-Hastings magnificent role in Greece’s revolution.

Recommended Reading
Finlay, G. (1861) History of the Greek Revolution, William Blackwood & Sons
St. Clair, W. (1972) That Greece May Still Be Free, Oxford University Press
Howarth, D. (1976) The Greek adventure, Harper Collins
(1845) Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine Volume 58, William Blackwood & Sons

All images out of copyright and obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The New Acropolis Museum, is Politics Undermining Art?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the New Acropolis Museum for the first time since visiting as part of an early preview last year.

P1000952

On the whole the museum is a fantastic achievement, yet I was disappointed at the scale that the political protest surrounding the marbles has been allowed into the galleries, at the expense of the art itself.

This begins with the Caryatids which have been displayed in relation to their original position on the Erechtheion, meaning that a gap is left for the Caryatid removed by Elgin's agents and now displayed in the British Museum. What benefit does this provide? In my opinion, none. It simply distracts the visitor from appreciating the Caryatids which do remain in Greece.

From here the political protest gets stronger. The top floor gallery has been designed to display the sculpture from the Parthenon including the frieze and pediment figures. Here plaster copies replace the pieces of sculpture located in the British Museum and other museums around the world. These copies forming a stark contrast to the original pieces on display.

At a high level this could be seen as acceptable. Until that is you consider the poor quality of the casts which are to the detriment of the visitors ability to appreciate the subject of the individual sculptures. And therefore the visitors understanding of the sculptures as a whole and the scenes that they cumulatively depict.

For me the prime example of politics over art is an original block which remains in Greece. Block III from the western inner frieze depicts a pause in the Panathenaic procession. A horseman stands in front of his steed which is being steadied by the reins by a groom. A fragment comprising of the grooms hand and part of the forearm is in the Munich museum. Even though this fragment is insignificant in relation to the rest of the block it has been replaced by a plaster copy. This copy is a positive eye sore which serves nothing but to distract the visitor from appreciating fully the beauty of the sculpture that does remain.

These poor quality casts are categorically a political statement, as I observed that pieces of original sculpture that have been removed for restoration have been replaced with far higher quality copies.

With the New Acropolis Museum, Greece has a fantastic opportunity to show that they have the ability to conserve, display and promote their heritage properly. But this has been tainted by the decision to bring politics into the galleries, to the detriment of the visitors appreciation of the pieces that remain in Greece and the visitors understanding of the subject as a whole.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Fifteen Times Estimate for Rare Horatio Nelson Memorial Ring

Collectors were given another opportunity to purchase one of a very rare set of memorial rings dedicated to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, at Lawrences of Crewkerne's Silver, Jewellery & Ceramics sale this month.

The handmade gold and enamel ring depicts the letter N for Nelson beneath a viscounts coronet and the letter B for Bronte. Nelson was made Duke of Bronte by Ferdinand IV King of Naples and Sicily, in recognition of Nelson's defeat of the French fleet in the Mediterranean at the Battle of the Nile (1798). The shank carries an inscription in Latin PALMAN QUI MERUIT FERAT which translates to 'let him bear the palm of of victory he who has won it'. The reverse is inscribed lost to his Country 21 Oct 1805 Aged 47.

Only around fifty eight of these memorial rings were crafted by London maker John Salter who was Lord Nelson's favoured silversmith. The rings were distributed by the executors of Nelson's will to his family, friends and the pall bearers at his funeral. A list of the original recipients exists in the British Museum.

Sotheby's sale Trafalgar held on the centenary of the battle offered four examples of the ring and each carried an estimate of between £15,000 and £20,000. Prices realised were all above the lower estimate and ranged from £16,100, up to £25,200 for the ring descending from George Matcham. The last memorial ring of this type to appear on the market was at Dreweatts Donnington & Priory Fine Jewellery sale in June 2008. Despite the ring being in very poor condition, with much of the enamel missing and other damage, it realised a strong price of £3,600 against an estimate of £250 to £350.

Given this Lawrences of Crewkerne's estimate of £800 to £1200 for thier fine example of this ring was certainly conservative and it was no surprise to find that the price realised was 15 times high estimate at £18,000.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Herculaneum

Located on the coast of the Bay of Naples in Italy, Herculaneum is a lesser known Roman town which was destroyed along with Pompeii in the infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

IMG_0692
As Herculaneum was less affected by falling debris from the initial stage of the eruption, it is better preserved than the more popular site of Pompeii. Many of the upper levels of the buildings remain preserved. The photograph below shows an example of an ornate ceiling in the second style of painting which was prevalent in the 1st Century BC.

IMG_0705
The photograph below shows stairs leading to the upper floor of a villa.

P1000685

Even artefacts in wood have survived, having been carbonised in the intense heat of the eruption. The photograph below shows original wooden window frames preserved along with the iron bars of the window.

P1000700
Below, a set of shelves for amphora located in the blacksmiths shop.

IMG_0694
In the Villa of the Wooden Partition you can see the partition wall complete with sliding door and parts of a wooden bed frame remain in one of the bedrooms.

Other highlights include the Villa of Neptune and Amphitrite named after the fantastically colourful mosaics in the summer triclinium or dining room.

P1000679

Herculaneum is also home to the grand Villa of the Papyri which belong to Lucius Calpurnius Caesonios, Julius Ceaser’s father in law and contained a vast library of scrolls which new techniques are enabling us to read. It also contained fine bronze statues now forming a significant collection in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

IMG_0585

Though on a smaller scale to Pompeii, the richer town of Herculaneum carries advantages to the visitor in its superior state of preservation. Also being less well known it attracts far less visitors making for a more pleasant visit.

All photographs are taken by the author and can be used as part of the Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs creative commons licence.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A Trip to Pompeii

I finally made it to the renowned ancient Roman town of Pompeii!

Pompeii 016
Entering through the ancient city walls and walking on the original paving, past uniquely well preserved civic buildings, villas, restaurants etc; you feel as though you are walking among the very ancients who suffered such a terrible fate from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Pompeii 008
The highlights for me were the fantastic villas, such as the largest in Pompeii, named the House of the Faun after the bronze statue in the courtyard.

Pompeii 056
This villa was also the location of the famous mosaic of Alexander the Greats victory over the Persian king Darius, now displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

IMG_0531
A visit to the Archaeological Museum is a must, it contains many treasures discovered in Pompeii and surrounding towns such as Herculaneum since excavations began in the 18th century.

Outside the city walls on the outskirts of Pompeii, the Villa of Mysteries maintains its fantastic frescos, its name is derived from the large fresco in the dining room depicting a mysterious wedding ritual.

Pompeii 106
These frescos remain in situ, but many more of the originals can also admired in the museum.

IMG_0546

Pompeii is a unique time capsule, providing a window onto life in the ancient world. With much of the site still remaining to be excavated, just imagine what treasures have yet to be discovered.

All photographs are taken by the author and can be used as part of the Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs creative commons licence.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Paestum, Ancient Poseidonia

The ancient Greek city state of Poseidonia now takes its later Roman name of Paestum. Located in the Campania region of southern Italy its tributary roads along the coast afford fantastic views.

P10006635th Century BC Temple of Hera in front of the earlier 6th Century temple also dedicated to the goddess

The archaeological site encompasses three Archaic Greek temples of the Doric order dating from the 6th Century BC. They are in a impressive condition with much of the pediments remaining.

IMG_0373 6th Century BC Temple of Athena

In 273 AD the Romans renamed the city Paestum and there is much evidence of architecture from the Roman period, including villas with geometric mosaic floors and an early coliseum.

IMG_0462
Many of the finds from the site are displayed in the galleries of the National Archaeological Museum of Paestum and include fascinating ancient tomb frescos.

Restaurant Ritrovo di Porta Marina away from the busy tourist area is recommended. They serve good food and their grounds encompass parts of the ancient city walls.

All photographs are taken by the author and can be used as part of the Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs creative commons licence

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Collectors Belie Estimate on Historical Brooch of Horatio Nelson Interest

A rare opportunity for collectors to purchase a lock of Lord Horatio Nelson's hair was offered at Brown & Co's sale on the 27th of June. Estimated at a conservative £300 to £500 the lock was mounted in an unusual gold and green enamelled brooch.

The brooch carries a fantastic provenance; the inscription on the reverse reads "Horatio Nelson obt 21st October 1805 aet 47", "The enclosed hair was cut off by Sir Thomas Hardy after the action of Trafalgar and presented by him to Richard Dusgate Esq". Richard Dusgate was a close friend and neighbour of Nelson in Norfolk and letters of their correspondence exist in the Norfolk museum today. The auctioneer informs me that the brooch was contemporary to Richard Dusgate and owned by the Dusgate family for many years, before being given as a present to the Grandfather of the consigner who worked on the families estate.

Nelson was mortally wounded on the deck of the Victory by a marksman aboard the French ship Redoutable which was locked in battle. Nelson was carried to the comparative safety of the tween deck, but there was nothing that could be done. The shot had penetrated his shoulder and continued, piercing a lung before becoming lodged in his spine. After three hours and soon after hearing that the British fleet under his command had won the historic battle; Nelson died, faintly repeating the words "Thank God I have done my duty".

Thomas Hardy cut Lord Nelson's hair to distribute to family and friends, before Nelson's body was embalmed in a barrel of brandy for the long journey back to England. Nelson was interred in a sarcophagus in St Paul's Cathedral following a glorious service fit for the hero that he was.

On the day of the sale competition between two telephone bidders meant that the brooch was knocked down four times the high estimate at £2400. What a fantastic piece of history the winning bidder has acquired.

Photographs used with the permission of Brown & Co.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Colonel Charles Nicolas Fabvier's Fort

Colonel Charles Fabvier (1782 to 1855) was a French veteran of the Napoleonic war. A staunch supporter of revolution and a philhellene he was invited to Greece during the War of Independence (1821 to 1827) in order to train Greek troops in the art of modern Napoleonic warfare.

Due to the inexperienced troops he was given command of, Fabvier's early campaigns were not successful, but nevertheless he was persuaded by the Greek government to continue his training. The location he chose for this was Methena in the Agrolikos region of the Peloponnese which he defended by fortifying its isthmus to the mainland.

I have visited what I believe to be Fabvier's fort on the isthmus several times. It is approached from the village of Taktikopoli which was named by Fabvier himself and means the city of regulars. This refers to the regular troops he was training as apposed to the traditional guerrilla fighters of the Greek war.

There's no signposts to the fort or information, but that wouldn't be any fun would it?! As you leave the village of Taktikopoli towards Methena past a newly built church on your left the road turns sharp left on to the isthmus, the fort will be partially visible atop the hill, but don't attempt to traverse it yet. Rather than follow the long curving road round to the right to Methena, take the first left up a gravel track visible on the map that leads to a disused industrial site. Park up close to the junction and on foot double back on yourself toward Taktikopoli away from the road to follow the track to a tiny church about 50 meters from the junction. From the church you can reach the fort by following the track denoted by blue painted markers on the rocks for approximately 600 meters.


Once you reach the fort you will notice that it is more medieval in style than 19th Century, but this is probably a reflection on the budget that Colonel Fabvier would have received. Or perhaps he garrisoned an existing fortification?


Photographs by Mark Notaras, subject to Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons licence

The fort affords great views and it is easy to to imagine Fabvier's soldiers in training on the mountainous terrain of Methena, preparing to battle the Ottoman army of Ibrahim Pasha which had regained control of so much of Greece. It would be a portion of these troops who would famously breach the Ottoman siege of the Acropolis to resupply the Greek garrison with gunpowder. During this operation Fabvier ordered his soldiers to remove the flints from their muskets to ensure a swift and covert sortie.

As with all exploring in Greece you should take some precautions. Take plenty of water with you and wear trousers and sturdy shoes for protection from snakes and scorpions. Avoid exploring during the hottest part of the day and keep in the shade. I know you will treat the site with care if you visit.

Attributions
Picture of Colonel Fabvier is from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 15 June 2009

Elgin Swindler or Saviour?

The debate surrounding Lord Elgin and the Parthenon marbles began during Elgin's lifetime and has continued ever since. With the official opening of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens due this Saturday (20th of June 2009) this controversial issue is again brought into prominent focus.

Designed by Bernard Tschumi the new Acropolis Museum is an impressive structure. Panes of glass in the floor expose the fascinating dense archaeology uncovered beneath the museums plot. A more topical part of the design is the third floor gallery. Juxtaposed in order to mirror the Parthenon, itself visible a few hundred meters away on the Acropolis, it is purposely designed to display the pieces of the inner frieze of the Parthenon.

However the majority of these pieces still in existence were removed from the Parthenon by Thomas Bruce 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841) during his ambassadorship to Constantinople which began in 1799. The Elgin Marbles as they are now popularly known, reside in the British Museum after the British Government purchased them from Lord Elgin in 1816.


The trustees of the British Museum have no intention of permanently returning the marbles to Greece though they have talked about a short term loan. So currently in the new Acropolis Museum modern copies reside in their place. These copies create a stark contrast to the genuine pieces in the collection, forming a clever but subtle protest.

One only needs to read the visitor book in the new Acropolis Museum or peruse the numerous articles to gauge the indignation that the issue of Lord Elgin and the marbles raises from people of all nationalities including the British. But are these views fair?

The appreciation of classical arts which began with the Renaissance in 13th century Italy, was thriving among the upper classes in England during the 18th and 19th centuries. This appreciation was shared passionately by Lord Elgin, who was inspired to use his position as ambassador as a means to further the knowledge of classical art and architecture in Britain. Elgin hoped to achieve this by recording, not removing, classical artifacts using the medium of drawings and casts. Elgin's sincere appreciation of the arts is highlighted by the fact that he funded the costs of this project out of his own pocket after being turned down for support from the British Government. Indeed Elgin would pursue his passion to the brink of ruination amassing massive personal debts.

At the time that Elgin was ambassador the Greek people were under Ottoman occupation and Elgin was well aware of the "imminent and unavoidable destruction" of ancient art in this arena. The Ottomans did not recognise the art of this foreign culture and this meant that they would use ancient masonry for building materials, and make adaptations as required, just as the Byzantines had done before them.

Indeed the Ottomans used the Acropolis itself as a fort. In 1687 while the Acropolis was under siege by the Venetians the Ottomans were using the Parthenon as a powder store. During the battle the Parthenon took a direct mortar shot from a Venetian cannon, the ensuing explosion destroying a large portion of the colonnades. Not satisfied with this destruction the victorious Venetian General Morosini proceeded to attempt to secure some of the statues from the west pediment as a spoil of war, their botched removal only leading to further destruction. With the phenomenon of the grand tour, this sort of piecemeal removal of artifacts was rife during Elgin's time, with pieces disappearing forever into private collections across Europe.

Elgin's artists were constantly hampered by the Ottoman garrison at the Acropolis, in 1801 Elgin's aide and chaplain Rev. Philip Hunt petitioned Elgin to request authority from the Sultan for uninterrupted access to the Acropolis and also crucially; "liberty to take away any sculptures or inscriptions which do not interfere with the works or walls of the citadel". Perhaps influenced by Britain's good standing with the Ottomans following the defeat of Napoleons army in Egypt1; Elgin received a loosely worded firman which ultimately provided him with the authority he required to remove the marbles. Though arguably it was only intended to enable him to remove artifacts from the ground and not from building structures1. The process of removal began and was to last several years. Due to the permanency of the sculptures much destruction was caused to the Parthenon notably the destruction of the cornice in order to remove the metopes of the outer freeze.

Elgin's life after his ambassadorship ended was a turbulent one. On his return journey through France in 1803 war again broke out between England and France and Elgin and his wife Lady Mary Nisbet were made prisoners of war. His wife, released early on the authority of Napoleon, returned to England where she had an affair with a mutual friend and confidant Robert Fergason. On Elgin's release in 1806 a combination of the ensuing divorce and the massive personal cost of removing the marbles left him in massive personal debt. Elgin desperately sought to sell the Parthenon sculptures to the nation, but the issue was controversial even then. The process was therefore very long and drawn out as the artistic significance of the marbles and indeed Elgin's right to have removed them and subsequently sell them was debated. Finally in 1816 the Government purchased the collection for the British Museum where it has remained ever since.

Elgin was motivated to remove the marbles as he was certain of their destruction. History was to prove him right. The Acropolis was besieged several times during the Greek War of Independence. Pieces continued to be acquired and dissolved into private collections. And in the 20th Century a fate that Elgin could not have foreseen came when the remaining sculptures were affected by pollution. The surface of the marbles suffering serious damage from acid rain and air pollution, which increased rapidly in the 1950s. It's effects corroding and discolouring the remaining sculptures until they were removed in 1992-1993 as part of an ongoing restoration project. Indeed, conservation is one of the fundamental arguments that the British Museum has used to refuse requests for the return of the collection.

But with the construction of the impressive new Acropolis Museum which can guarantee the conservation of the marbles and provides a fantastic structure to display them, now may be the time for Britain to return the marbles to Greece where they can be reunited with other pieces in their true home. Perhaps however this should be on the proviso that an exhibition is created telling the story of Lord Elgin and painting a balanced picture of the topic, describing how he may just have saved these these classical masterpieces that we study, admire and enjoy today.

Further Reading

  1. St. Clair, W. (1967) Lord Elgin and the Marbles, Oxford University Press
  2. Cook, B.F. (1984) The Elgin Marbles, British Museum Publications Ltd
  3. Papakonstantinou, E. et al. (2007) The Surface Conservation Project of the Acropolis Monuments:studies and Interventions, [Online], Available: http://cipa.icomos.org/fileadmin/papers/Athens2007/FP111.pdf

Photographs

All photographs are subject to the creative commons license and were obtained from flickr.

  1. The New Acropolis Museum by Robert Wallace
  2. Parthenon frieze by Wally Gobetz
  3. The Parthenon by Dimitris Tsakanis

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

My Technical Blog

This is my new blog for non techie posts, my technical blog with posts which focus on .NET Development can be found here http://blogs.imeta.co.uk/mnotaras/Default.aspx.