A Chinese bidder has refused to pay up over 30 million dollars that he successfully bid for two sculptures taken from Beijing in the 19th century. He’s being hailed as a hero in China, and it’s once again raised the issue of who owns items taken during past wars or colonial rule.
Recent examples….The Cleveland Museum of Art agreed to return 13 antiquities and a late Gothic processional cross to Italy after authorities there proved the works were looted, stolen or handled by traffickers. So does the time elapsed make a difference as to whether something should be returned – or indeed the way in which it was taken? A stolen greek vase was also returned to Italy.
But not everyone is so willing to return items to their original home. The Elgin marbles is one such example. They rest at the British Museum, where they claim they are safer than if they were returned to Greece. Just last week Iraq’s national museum reopened after it was reported that 170,000 artefacts were stolen or looted from the Baghdad building amidst the fierce fighting in the city in 2003. Thousands have been recovered but many more haven’t. When and if they are found, should they be returned? Or if someone has paid money for them, should they have the right to keep them?