Ian Jenkins, British Museum Curator Involved in Elgin Marbles Controversy, Has Died at 67

Ian Jenkins, British Museum Curator Involved in Elgin Marbles Controversy, Has Died at 67

Ian Jenkins, a longtime senior curator of Greek art at the British Museum in London, has died at 67. The Guardian reported that he was battling Parkinson’s disease.

Jenkins joined the British Museum in 1978 and wound up shaping how ancient Greek art was presented there. As a classics scholar, he was concerned with how the presentation of such architectural works within the museum’s galleries informed the viewer’s perspective. Years of research were devoted to recreating their original arrangements of certain objects in the museum’s holdings.

Jenkins did not shy away from commenting on some of the more contentious aspects of the British Museum’s history. The British Museum has faced controversy for some of its Greek holdings, with many alleging that the Elgin Marbles, a grouping of sculptures taken from the edifice of the Parthenon, had been plundered prior to entering the institution’s holdings. In the late 1990s, the museum came under scrutiny for attempting to cover up significant damage to the 2,500-year-old sculptures inflicted during a cleaning in the 1930s.

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In response, Jenkins convened a symposium in London where two dozen conservation and archaeology specialists examined the sculptures. He detailed their findings in the book Cleaning and Controversy: The Parthenon Sculptures 1811-1939 (2001). The British Museum called the conservation attempt “heavy-handed” and the subsequent cover-up a “scandal,” though it maintained that the incident should not affect any decision to return the marbles to Greece.

In an interview with the Guardian at the time, Jenkins said, “The British Museum is not infallible, it is not the pope,” adding that its “history has been a series of good intentions marred by the occasional cock-up, and the 1930s cleaning was such a cock-up.”

Jenkins was born in Chippenham, England, in 1953. He studied archaeology, ancient Greek, and ancient history at Bristol University and later received his Ph.D. from the University of London. A stint as a trainee stonemason in Bath led to a lifelong interest in the stone.

In 1998, at the British Museum, Jenkins oversaw the debut of two small rooms leading to the Pantheon display that provided historical context for the monument, as well as tactile displays for visitors who are blind or visually impaired. At the time of his death, he was working on a new touch tour of the display.

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