In what was one of the great acts of the Enlightenment, in 1753 parliament established the British Museum as a trust, the first of its kind in the world, which was to be run independently of politics and of parliament. This autonomy has been central to its scholarship and public purpose for the past 265 years. And it means that contrary to the arguments of Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (The Parthenon marbles need to be in the EU, Journal, 25 September), the Brexit negotiations have no bearing on the location of the Parthenon sculptures.
Trustees today have three broad responsibilities: to conserve and enhance the collections for ever; to generate new knowledge, especially by supporting the kind of research that is only possible in a large encyclopaedic museum; and to make the collections accessible to the whole world. They work with colleagues across the UK and around the world to share knowledge and objects from their collections as widely as possible. But they don’t see the objects for which they are responsible as negotiating chips in a political debate.
Chair of the British Museum trustees
• Why is Greece’s culture minister, Lydia Koniordou, writing to our culture minister about letting Greece have the marbles? I am sure that only the trustees of the British Museum can make this decision. Maybe someone should tell Koniordou – and then say “no”?
• If the Parthenon marbles are returned to Athens then the British Museum should use the empty space for the important sculptures, also removed in the 19th century by the British, from the little known, unvisited, Temple of Apollo at Bassae. This temple rivals the Parthenon but its sculptures are hidden away in a small dark room up an obscure staircase. No one seems to want them.
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