The argument for displaying antiquities outside their country of origin is that these pieces are part of our shared, universal, cosmopolitan culture. Does it matter if archaic Athenian funerary sculptures are displayed in Manhattan? South Italian pottery in Melbourne? Roman imperial portraits in Malibu? Greek architectural sculptures in Munich? Egyptian funerary portraits from the Faiyum in Manchester?
Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities can be enjoyed, appreciated, and discussed, whether they are in Cairo, Athens, Istanbul, Rome, or indeed Paris, Berlin or Boston. Indeed they have the power to inspire new generations of students and scholars who have the enthusiasm to engage with their subject. How many students in Cambridge during the 1920s and 1930s were drawn into the study of the prehistoric Aegean by the Prehistoric displays in the Fitzwilliam Museum designed by Winifred Lamb? The pioneering careers of Robert Carr Bosanquet (Palaikastro), Alan Wace (Mycenae) and John Pendlebury (Crete) started with the study of this major university collection.
Then there are the national “universal” collections. From the hub of the Great Court of the British Museum it is possible to gain access to major masterpieces from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and mainland Greece. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to see the finds from Ur, the Rosetta stone, or the reliefs from that wonder of the ancient world, the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos. The collections are accessible (and free)—so long as you have a visa to get to the United Kingdom.
How were these collections formed?
See the above page for the full story.