In another controversial move, the British Museum has lent one of the Elgin Marbles for the first time. A headless depiction of the river god Ilissos has been sent to Russia to go on display in St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum until mid-January. Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the controversy surrounding the Elgin--or Parthenon--Marbles has heated up over the last few months. The news that a part of the collection has been lend to Russia (of all places) will surely not calm affairs down.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum told BBC Radio 4:
"[It is a] very big moment. This is the first time ever that the people of Russia have been able to see this great moment of European art and European thought. I hope that [the Greek government] be very pleased that a huge new public can engage with the great achievements of ancient Greece. People who will never be able to come to Athens or to London will now here in Russia understand something of the great achievements of Greek civilisation."

Asked whether the marbles would be loaned to Greece if it promised to give them back, he said the museum was willing to lend anything in the collection provided it was fit for travel and if it was going a place where it would be safe and from where it would be returned. The Greek government, he added, had to date not asked to borrow them. Mr MacGregor says he is willing to start a dialogue with the Greeks about loans of this kind - and the idea of a permanent loan (of the whole Elgin collection) has been suggested in the past, but for many Greeks, the idea of borrowing back what they regard as their own property would be painful.

The statue will be on display in Russia until mid-January.