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This week, the Acropolis Museum in Athens commenced the display of a remarkable Greek vase, hitherto housed in the British Museum for a quarter of a millennium. This venerable artifact, dating back 2,500 years, is part of a rare loan arrangement. On Tuesday December 5, organizers of the exhibit unveiled this historic piece.
Nikolaos Stampolidis, the Acropolis Museum’s Director General, emphasized the distinct nature of this temporary acquisition vis-à-vis the protracted negotiations concerning the Parthenon Marbles. They have been the subject of a longstanding diplomatic dispute between Greece and the United Kingdom. “Exhibition loans are one thing, and the Parthenon Marbles are another,” he stated to the press. These sculptures, extracted from the Parthenon temple in Greece by Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, in the early 19th century, remain a contentious issue; Greece asserts their removal constituted theft, a claim the UK refutes. “We want the sculptures to return here forever,” Stampolidis asserted.
A recent incident exacerbated tensions when British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Downing Street accused Mitsotakis of reneging on a commitment to refrain from using the meeting as a forum for discussing the Marbles.
The focal point of the loan, the Meidias hydria, a painted water jug dating from 420 BC, is often heralded as “history’s most famous pot” by the British Museum. Crafted by the Athenian potter Meidias and unearthed in Italy, it was acquired by Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, and sold to the British Museum in 1772.
The vase forms part of an expansive collection of 165 art pieces featured in the exhibition, titled Noemata, or Meanings. This collection, encompassing coins, ceramics, vases, sculptures, mosaics, manuscripts, porcelains and paintings, has been sourced from premier European museums. Remarkably, half of these artifacts had never left their respective museums prior to this exhibit, as noted by Stampolidis, an expert in early Greek history.
Noemata seeks to explore the representation of abstract concepts like love, health and time by Greek artists, spanning from antiquity to the modern era. The exhibition, scheduled for inauguration on Thursday, will continue until April 14. Following its tenure at the Acropolis Museum, the Meidias hydria will journey to the Louvre in Paris, where it will be showcased in an exhibition related to the Olympic Games beginning in July in the French capital.