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British Museum loans Elgin Marbles statue to Russia's Hermitage Museum

This headless statue of a river god, seen here in London in October, is now in a Russian museum. Credit: Reuters

The British Museum has loaned part of the controversial Elgin Marbles to a museum in Russia "in spite of political disagreements between governments," its trustees said.

A headless statue of the Greek river-god Illissos will be on display in St Petersburg as part of the Hermitage Museum's 250th anniversary celebrations, British Museum director Neil MacGregor said.

Nina Nannar reports:

It will be the first time any part of the Marbles has left London since they arrived in Britain over 200 years ago.

The Trustees have always believed that such loans must continue between museums in spite of political disagreements between governments.

That is why in 2011 they lent the Cyrus Cylinder, the document setting out the humane ideals of the ancient Persian Empire, to Tehran.

It is a position energetically shared by our counterparts in Russia.

– Neil MacGregor, British Museum Director

British Museum trustees "immediately answered yes" to the Hermitage Museum's request for the loan, Mr MacGregor added.

The river god sculpture from Athens dates from between 438-432 BC and Credit: British Museum

The headless marble statue is one of a number of similar items that once decorated the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis and were removed more than two centuries ago by Lord Elgin, a Scottish nobleman.

But Greece maintains they were removed illegally during the country's Turkish occupation and should be returned for display in a new Athens museum.

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Hermitage Museum director Dr Mikhaile Piotrovsky said:

I am delighted that this important, beautiful and significant sculpture has been lent in celebration of our two museums’ shared values and will be seen alongside the permanent classical sculptures of the Hermitage.

– Mikhaile Piotrovsky
The sculpture will go on display alongside other great works of art at St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum.