Few archaeological artifacts are better known than the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum, which are commonly referred to as the Elgin Marbles. Lord Elgin removed the sculptures from the Parthenon and Acropolis between 1801 and 1812, and they were spirited away to London for sale to the British Museum in 1816. They remain in the British Museum today in the Duveen Gallery, which was specially constructed to showcase the Parthenon marbles.
A flood of people stream through the gallery each day to see the sculptures, and many if not most of those visitors know the basic histories, mythological narratives, and perhaps even individual designs of the marbles. The incessant stream of photographers capturing the statuary is not especially unique in contemporary museums, especially those displaying the treasures found in the British Museum. Yet the frenzy of picture-taking in the Duveen Gallery suggests that many museum artifacts are latent camera images and not material things with which we physically interact. Read the rest of this entry