British Museum to put stolen items on public display

The British Museum is putting 10 of the items that had been stolen from them on display to the public.

The Rediscovering Gems exhibition, beginning this month, will also show more than 500 objects that were not caught up in the thefts.

All the previously stolen items will be in their own showcase and clearly labelled.

These include a Roman first century profile bust of goddess Minerva/Athena in black glass with a white band, and a glass cameo with bust of god Cupid/Eros in three layers of brown on white on purple glass.

British Museum
Glass cameo with bust of Cupid/Eros in different coloured glass (The Trustees of the British Museum/PA)

Chairman of the board of trustees at the British Museum, George Osborne,  said: “We promised we’d show the world the gems that were stolen and recovered rather than hide them away.

“It’s another example of culture change under way at the British Museum, as we open up and take ownership of our own story.”

The former chancellor had told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in October that the items would be displayed, saying it has the “makings of a good exhibition”.

Hundreds of stolen objects have been returned after the museum disclosed in August that the items, later disclosed to number about 2,000, were missing, stolen or damaged from its collection.

Tom Harrison, keeper of the British Museum’s department of Greece and Rome, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to put on this exhibition and showcase some of the stunning recovered gems which are now safely back in the museum’s collection.

“It’s also an interesting opportunity to cast some light on an underappreciated and very beautiful art form.

“A huge thanks goes out to all those who have lent support and helped us in the recovery programme.”

The ancient Mediterranean objects were used as seals, jewellery or collected and sought after by royalty, aristocrats, artists and antiquarians, according to the museum.

British Museum artefacts thefts
George Osborne, chairman of the British Museum (left) with interim director Sir Mark Jones (Aaron Chown/PA)

Items will be displayed in a gem cabinet reflective of the 18th century, when they were popular.

The museum is working with the Metropolitan Police Service and an international group of experts in gems, collection history and art loss recovery, to locate and return the remaining missing items.

This recovery team, dealers and members of the public have helped return the items.

In September, the museum launched a webpage which gave details of the losses and information about how to report them.

When the thefts were disclosed, the museum said an unnamed member of staff was sacked and it was taking legal action.

In the wake of the controversy, German art historian and British Museum director Hartwig Fischer resigned and former Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum director Sir Mark Jones was appointed in the interim.

Mr Fischer said the museum did not respond “comprehensively” when it was warned of the thefts in 2021 and Sir Mark has since pledged to restore its reputation.

A job advertisement for the next British Museum director closed at the end of last month.

Rediscovering Gems will run from February 15 to June 15 in room three at the museum.