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Art & Avarice

December 17, 1989

I applaud Stanley Meisler's "Arts & Avarice" (Nov. 12) for denouncing the plundering of ancient treasures. However, I must take exception to his characterization of Lord Elgin as "rapacious" because of his removal of sculptures from the Parthenon.

Not only did the Turks "not care much about the Parthenon," as Meisler wrote, they even stored gunpowder in it at one point. The sculptures suffered major damage in 1687 when the Turks' Venetian enemies sought to reduce the Turkish arsenal by bombarding the Acropolis--thus setting off the powder magazine.

Drawings of the sculptures from the mid-1700s show how rapidly they deteriorated during the 50 years before Lord Elgin removed them for protection. The "rapacious Lord Elgin" sold the sculptures to the Crown for only about half of what it cost him to bring them to England. If Lord Elgin had not removed the sculptures, there might have been nothing left to protect by the time the Greeks finally began to show a civilized interest in their national heritage. Meisler could have supported his theme perfectly well without ignoring these historical facts.

RICHARD REINERSTON

Westminster

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