ATHENS, Greece — Authorities cheered the return Thursday of a tiny, 2,600-year-old statue stolen during World War II, and said the news should offer hope to antiquity officials in Iraq as well.
They also said the statue’s return should send a message to the British Museum, which currently has the Parthenon Marbles — a collection of Greek sculptures taken from the Parthenon in 1811.
A British ancient art dealer returned the tiny statue of a smiling, long-haired youth after realizing the piece had been stolen from the Aegean Sea island of Samos during World War II. Greece was occupied by forces from Germany, Italy and Bulgaria during the war.
James Ede, chairman of the London-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, bought the 4½-inch (11-centimeter) bronze figure from the widow of a Greek art collector who lived in Switzerland. He turned it over to the Greek Embassy in London and accompanied the statue on its flight home.
The piece will be displayed at the archaeological museum of Samos.
“I’m very proud to be able to return this little statuette to this museum,” Ede said at a ceremony in Athens.
“What you have done is fantastic. Thank you very, very much,” said Fani Palli-Petralia, deputy culture minister, who refused to handle the statue for fear of damaging it.
The lost marbles
Greece has sought for years to recover other objects, including a series of statues and fragments removed from Athens’ Parthenon by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and later sold to the British Museum.
The museum has refused to return the objects — known as the Elgin Marbles — even on loan.
“I can’t help but draw a comparison with the Parthenon Marbles,” said Palli-Petralia. “I hope your example will be followed by others, like the British Museum.”
Greece argues the Elgin Marbles are an integral part of the 2,500-year-old Athens monument, but failed in a bid to have them on display here for the Olympics last summer.
“I can’t comment on the wider issues of restitution but I think you can feel that my heart is in the right place,” Ede said.
Implications for Iraq
He said the tiny statue also carried a message for Iraq.
Thousands of ancient items were stolen from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad and other sites following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
“I think the dispersal of our cultures helps us understand and love each other and is a good thing but this must be a legal process,” Ede said. “We will continue to fight the illegal trade. ... With war, civil strife, and upheavals around the world — not least in Baghdad — the duty that we have will become greater and greater.”
The statue has been valued at about $55,000.
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