The Victoria and Albert Museum in London will return to Turkey a marble head of the Greek deity Eros which was separated from a sarcophagus dating from the 3rd century CE. The movement resolves a struggle to return the object that has lasted nearly a century.
The V&A described the artifact’s return as “a cultural partnership” with the Turkish government agency overseeing culture and tourism. The loan agreement, which is due to last six years, recognizes shared ownership between the Turkish government and the British museum, which is run by the state.
The fragment of Eros was taken in 1882 by Charles Wilson, a British military officer during a stay in Anatolia, when he discovered a Roman sarcophagus in the province of Karaman in central Turkey. Wilson then loaned the head to the V&A, then known as the South Kensington Museum. It was donated to the museum in 1933 after his death.
The V&A discussed returning the head to Turkey in exchange for a Byzantine antiquity. The then director of the museum, Eric Maclagan, openly expressed concern about the potential repercussions of such a restitution agreement on other artefacts held in British museums.
In 1934, however, the British government allowed the marble head to be returned to Turkey. To see if the marble head really came from the original sarcophagus, the V&A first provided a plaster duplicate to experts in Turkey. The marble head continued to be stored in London until the end of the 20th century.
In 2005, conversations around the sculpture’s return resurfaced when the Turkish government demanded that the original artifact be finally recovered. V&A curator Paul Williamson said the museum was willing to return the head to Turkey on long-term loan. Negotiations were again renewed in 2010.
As part of the arrangement, restorers have since reattached the head to Sidamara’s sarcophagus from where it was taken more than a century ago. The monument is now on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.