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Ownership Disputes Lead Turkey to Ban Loans to US and UK Islamic Art Exhibitions

Published: 10/06/2012 10:14:39 AM GMT
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02 March 2012 Turkish claims to art works held by the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, and New York's (more)

02 March 2012

Turkish claims to art works held by the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) have led the Turkish government to ban loans to British and American museums. This has caused problems for a few major exhibitions of Islamic art.

Turkey claims a dozen antiquities presently belonging to the MET. A museum spokeswoman says: “The matter is under discussion with the Turkish authorities.”

Tolga Tuyluoglu, the head of the Turkish government's culture and tourism office in London, confirmed that claims for the return of two artefacts in the British Museum and V&A are being pursued. Although there is a “good relationship” between Turkish and British cultural organisations, his government wants to resolve issues over the two antiquities “before discussing loans for exhibitions”.

The Turkish government wants the British Museum to return a carved stele (stone slab) dating from the first century BC, which depicts King Antiochus I Epiphanes greeting Herakles-Verethragna. It was bought in 1911 by the archaeologist Leonard Woolley, who was digging in Carchemish with the permission of the Ottoman authorities.

Turkish authorities have also made a restitution claim to the V&A for the stone head of a child, representing Eros, from the famed third-century BC Sidamara sarcophagus. The head was removed in 1882 by the archaeologist Charles Wilson, and donated to the V&A by his family in 1933.

The items being held by the British Museum and the V&A Museum are pre-Islamic, but the disputes about them are affecting major Islamic art exhibitions.

The British Museum was unable to obtain a number of artifacts it desired for its monumental Hajj exhibition (pictured) which is now underway. It had been refused 35 requested objects from the Topkapi Palace, the Turbeler Museum, and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Although Turkish museums were agreeable to the loans, the ministry of culture blocked them, leaving the British Museum to find alternative artefacts at short notice.

The V&A is facing a similar problem over its planned exhibition "The Ottomans", for which loans from Turkey are essential. The show is due to focus on the development of Ottoman art from the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to the 19th century. Scheduled for 2014, then delayed a year, it is now on hold.

As for the new Yourk MET, this month, it is due to open "Byzantium and Islam" (14 March-8 July). Many loans are coming from the Benaki Museum in Athens, with none requested of Turkish museums.


Martin Bailey, "Turkey blocks loans to US and UK" The Art Newspaper March 1, 2012

"Turkey Imposes Cultural Embargo on Museums with Contested Objects" Illicit Cultural Property March 1, 2012

Reproduced with permission from Islam Today