Secret flight path of the Parthenon statue

Hermitage director reveals "circuitous" route that marble sculpture took from London to St Petersburg to avoid Greek seizure


When the British Museum in London lent a Parthenon sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum to mark the Russian institution’s 250th birthday in late 2014, there were fears that Greece might try to seize the statue en route to St Petersburg. To prevent this, the loan was shrouded in secrecy until the sculpture of the river god Ilissos went on show in the Hermitage (6 December 2014-18 January 2015). The Art Newspaper has learned that the route it took was designed to avoid European Union territory as an extra precaution.

Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage, tells us that to forestall any attempt to intercept the sculpture, it was flown from London to St Petersburg “circuitously”. He says: “It could not be transported through Europe, because Greece believe that it belongs to them and they could have attempted to seize it at some airport en route, and according to the laws of the European Union, this would have been legitimate.” The exact route it took is a mystery, however. Did it travel via the Arctic or over North Africa? Piotrovsky declines to say, and a spokeswoman for the British Museum will only say: “When flying any loan overseas, the British Museum chooses the most direct route possible. This was true for the loan of Ilissos to the Hermitage.”

But any hard feelings between Russia and Greece are, it seems, in the past. In March, a statue found near the Parthenon will be lent to the Hermitage by the Acropolis Museum in Athens. In return, the Hermitage is lending three pieces of Scythian gold found in eastern Crimea.