Robot’s replica sculpture could help Elgin Marbles return to Greece

1 min read

A carving by a robot of a horse’s head, taken more than 200 years ago from the Parthenon – Greece’s most renowned 5th century BC monument – could help persuade the British Museum to finally return the Elgin Marbles.

The carving is a highly accurate replica of the Selene Horse, part of the collection of marble sculptures by Phidias, made to decorate the temple 2500 years ago.

“We chose the Selene Horse because it’s an object that that most people know already,” the Executive Director and Founder of the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), Roger Michel, told Reuters.

“So we will help them when they see our reconstruction of it, since they already have a good idea, their minds and what this thing is supposed to look like when they see our object,” he said.

The new Selene Horse is now on display at Freud Museum in London and is indistinguishable from the original, according to the IDA. 

“It’s a product of about 9 to 10 weeks worth of work in terms of the scanning, in terms of the construction of the 3D model. Then the robot went to work, roughing this thing out over the period of about 7 or 8 days and then artisans have been working on it, for now 3 weeks getting it perfect. The last 3 to 5 percent is all hand work and that’s the crucial 3 to 5 percent,” Michel said.

The robot sculptor is in a specialist workshop in Carrara, Italy, and could recreate the entire Parthenon sculptures in around 18 months, according to the IDA.

“Obviously we don’t know for sure, but I personally have a hunch that were this technology available to Phidias or available to Michelangelo, I think they would have embraced it with enthusiasm,” Dr Alexy Karenowska, IDA Technical Director, told Reuters.

Athens has campaigned to have the “Elgin Marbles”, as they are often known – 75 metres of Parthenon frieze, 15 metopes and 17 sculptures – returned from the British Museum since they were removed by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire then ruling Greece.

The British Museum bought the marbles in 1816 and British officials say they had been acquired legally by Elgin, a claim Greece denies. The British Museum says there are no current discussions with the Greek government on their return.

Among the visitors admiring the new Selene Horse, was Rhea Hajifanis Whitnock, Vice Chair of the British Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, who said the robotic replica will affect the debate.

“This is an emotional moment because I’ve grown up with a Horse of Selene in my house from the day I was born. We had a copy, in resin, from the British Museum at the top of the staircase, so everyone would walk in and be welcomed by it. And so seeing this beautiful upgrade, almost the real thing, and being able to caress it and just see it, is really moving.” (Courtesy IDA / Robotor via Reuters)

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