Caryatid, one of the most famous Greek sculptures is named after “Karyai”, an ancient town in Peloponnese, the southern part of Mainland Greece.
The 6 female form sculptures represent the maidens of goddess Artemis (Goddess of Hunt and Wilderness) and were used to support the roof of “Erechtheion”, a temple in the Acropolis of Athens instead of columns. However, only 5 of the original ones are still in Greece. And that’s where the story of our Caryatid begins.
Caryatids in Erechteion
From 1801 to 1812 and while Greece was under the occupation of Ottoman empire, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and his company, removed almost half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon and of other ancient buildings in the Acropolis of Athens. One of the 6 Caryatids supporting the roof of “Eerechteion” among them.
The marbles were transported by sea to Britain and many of them have been seriously damaged during their transport. After a public debate, Elgin sold the marbles to the British government in 1816. Since then the ownership of the statue is in a constant battle between the Greek Cultural Ministry and the British Museum. After Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the newly-founded Greek state began some organized efforts to repatriate the Acropolis stolen marbles. During the 1980s the Greek Minister of Culture and world known actor Melina Mercouri intensified the international efforts and campaigned the repatriation of the stolen art.
Greece argues that art should be showcased in its physical environment where it was meant to be. In our tee WHO OWNS WHAT we express our belief that art and culture have no owner and belongs to no one. It’s a crime that the sculpture cannot be in its physical environment where it can show its greatness and is trapped in the British Museum. We support the campaign Bring Them Back (https://bringthemback.org) which is a petition requesting the return of the marbles via the European parliament and other legal and institutional means. There is no such thing as ownership when it comes to art. So British Museum, who owns what?