Keeping Elgin Marbles in UK akin to ‘cutting Mona Lisa in half’ says Greek prime minister

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Credit: PA

The Greek prime minister has compared the British Museum’s possession of the Elgin Marbles to the 'Mona Lisa painting being cut in half'.

Athens has long demanded the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, which were removed from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said he will raise the issue during meetings with Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer in London this week.

Asked where the Parthenon Sculptures should be, Mr Mitsotakis told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I think the answer is very clear. They do look better in the Acropolis Museum, a state-of-the-art museum that was built for that purpose.”

Sections of the Parthenon Marbles in London’s British Museum Credit: PA

He went on: “This is not in my mind an ownership question, this is a reunification argument, where can you best appreciate what is essentially one monument?

“I mean, it’s as if I told you that you would cut the Mona Lisa in half, and you will have half of it at the Louvre and half of it at the British Museum, do you think your viewers would appreciate the beauty of the painting in such a way?

“Well, this is exactly what happened with the Parthenon sculptures and that is why we keep lobbying for a deal that would essentially be a partnership between Greece and the British Museum but would allow us to return the sculptures to Greece and have people appreciate them in their original setting.”

British Museum chairman George Osborne, the former chancellor, has previously said he is exploring ways for the Elgin Marbles to be displayed in Greece.

There has been speculation this could involve some form of loan arrangement.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer represents the Holborn & St Pancras constituency, home to the British Museum. Credit: PA

Sir Keir, who represents the Holborn & St Pancras constituency, home to the British Museum, will tell Mr Mitsotakis that Labour will not change the law regarding the marbles, The Financial Times reported.

One person close to Sir Keir told the paper: “We’re sticking with the existing law, but if a loan deal that is mutually acceptable to the British Museum and the Greek government can be agreed, we won’t stand in the way.”

The 1963 British Museum Act prevents the institution giving away objects from its collection except in very limited circumstances.

The prime minister, speaking in March, said that there were “no plans” to change a law over the sculptures.

Mr Mitsotakis said: “We have not made as much progress as I would like in the negotiations, but again, I’m a patient man and we’ve waited for hundreds of years and I will persist in these discussions.”

Asked if it can be done within his time as prime minister, he added: “I would hope so, yes, I was just elected.”

A British Museum spokesperson said: “Discussions with Greece about a Parthenon Partnership are on-going and constructive.

“We believe that this kind of long term partnership would strike the right balance between sharing our greatest objects with audiences around the world, and maintaining the integrity of the incredible collection we hold at the museum.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...