1816 marks the bicentennial of Parliament’s acquisition of the marbles removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin. The accompanying controversy—which still rages—was especially heated in the British newspapers and magazines, and in the poems and letters of Lord Byron, Felicia Hemans, John Keats and other literary figures. Byron, for his part, found nothing to forgive in Elgin’s theft. Hemans’s view was more nuanced: her poem of the same year, The Restoration of the Works of Art to Italy, celebrated the return of Napoleon’s spoils but preceded another published in 1817, Modern Greece, that hailed the so-called “Elgin Marbles” as a vital source of England’s future greatness. Keats, perhaps better than anyone else, registered the affective power of the sculptures, even in their deracinated context, in his famously measured estimation, “a shadow of a magnitude.”
The Elgin controversy and its literary responses weigh heavy questions: to what extent is art an index of national health, prestige and legacy, and can such values be transferred? The cultural imperialism of nineteenth-century museological practices is a subject well covered, especially with regard to the British Museum, but is it perhaps too easy to blame only curators, members of Parliament, the Ottoman regime, Lord Elgin himself and the host of bureaucrats and commentators who supported them?—if art can aspire to be at once national and borderless, does that aspiration itself permit or even demand certain transgressions, of which Elgin’s was an especially practical and egregious example?
This panel would hope to share new work on the intersections of art and nation so important to those who commented on the Elgin controversy. Papers on this particular controversy and on the aforementioned poets are especially welcome, but anyone with a thematically relevant proposal is encouraged to submit.
Please send 300-word abstracts and a CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 25th. Queries and clarifications are welcome.