Oxford University Announces Decision To Repatriate 500 Year Old Bronze Sculpture

Oxford University Announces Decision To Repatriate 500 Year Old Bronze Sculpture

By Tony O’Reilly-

Oxford University has announced its decision to repatriate a 500-year-old bronze sculpture of the Hindu saint Tirumankai Alvar to India. The nearly 60cm-tall statue, which had been on display at the university’s Ashmolean Museum, is believed to have been looted from an Indian temple.

The decision comes after a claim for the 16th-century sculpture of the Tamil poet and saint from south India was made through the Indian high commission.

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The council of the University of Oxford supported the claim on March 11, 2024. The return of the sculpture is now pending approval from the Charity Commission.

A statement from the Ashmolean Museum emphasized the institution’s commitment to addressing historical injustices and ensuring the rightful return of cultural artifacts. “The council of the University of Oxford supported a claim from the Indian high commission for the return of a 16th-century bronze sculpture of saint Tirumankai Alvar from the Ashmolean Museum. This decision will now be submitted to the Charity Commission for approval.”

This move is part of a broader trend of institutions re-examining their collections and the provenance of their artifacts. Last year, the Queen Consort Camilla wore Queen Mary’s crown at King Charles’s coronation without the controversial Koh-i-noor diamond, highlighting ongoing disputes over cultural heritage items.

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The Koh-i-noor diamond, one of the largest cut gems in the world, was seized by the East India Company in Punjab in 1849 and has been a part of the British crown jewels ever since. India, along with Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, has repeatedly claimed ownership of the diamond since gaining independence from the British Empire in 1947.

In 2022, both Oxford and Cambridge universities announced their willingness to return collections of Benin bronzes after Nigeria requested their repatriation.

Over 200 artifacts were looted by British colonial forces in 1897 following a violent trade dispute. These artifacts, including several thousand brasses and other items, were sold in London to cover the costs of the military mission.

The return of cultural artifacts remains a contentious and politically charged issue worldwide.

Last year, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was involved in a dispute with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the return of the Parthenon marbles. Athens has long campaigned for the return of these sculptures, claiming they were illegally acquired during a period of foreign occupation.

The repatriation of the Tirumankai Alvar sculpture is seen as a significant step in addressing historical wrongs and fostering cultural reconciliation.

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