But Greek opposition politicians and some archaeologists say it’s too long. They say the government should have fought in court to get the entire collection back faster, arguing it was looted from ancient sites on Greek islands and smuggled.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said august offer – which also involved the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – was the best it could be.
“A legal proceeding is a very difficult matter that requires very solid documentation which in most cases we lack,” she said on Tuesday during a presentation of the exhibition, which opened last week. and will take place for a year in Athens. Cycladic Art Museum — itself based on a private Greek collection.
“It is an unfortunate fact that finds from illegal excavations exist all over the world,” she added. “So whoever belongs to Greece, our policy is to bring them back.”
Dating from 5300 to 2200 BC. AD, the artifacts were acquired by Leonard N. Stern, an 84-year-old businessman specializing in pet supplies and real estate. Most belong to the Cycladic civilization which flourished in the Cycladic islands between 3,200 and 2,000 BC. AD, whose elegantly abstract yet enigmatic white marble figurines inspired leading artists of the 20th century.
The 15 works exhibited in Athens are striking. An 86 centimeter (34 in) female figurine retains the eyes and eyebrows in low relief. A small female figure standing on the head of a larger one is one of only three known. A marble head bears traces of painted red dots on its cheeks and neck because – like later ancient Greek sculpture – many Cycladic figurines were originally coloured.
Little is known of their original function, largely because so many surviving Cycladic artifacts were hastily unearthed by looters. This deprives archaeologists of the clues that a proper dig could provide.
“When an artifact, from a broken piece of pottery to a statue, is removed from its context, from the environment in which it stands, it ceases to be historical evidence and simply becomes a work of art” , Mendoni said. “The loss is immense.”
“If we accept that our past is part of our identity, the objects that come from illegal excavations deprive us of a greater or lesser part of this identity,” she added.
Mendoni said Greece had stepped up its efforts – in collaboration with other countries – to discourage the trade in looted antiquities and had seen a drop in antiquities collecting.
The 15 works will be sent to the Met, to be exhibited with the rest from 2023 to 2048. Returns to Greece will begin in 2033 and continue through 2048.