Earlier this month, art auction house Sotheby's presented a marble bust owned by Lord Elgin (Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin) and acquired from Rome in 1799. As reported in a recent Telegraph article, the Elgin bust was never sold and had stayed in the family ever since. It is further notable that the Elgin bust had no contested claims of ownership. However, had it been one of the Greek marbles removed from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin and shipped back to England and sold to the British Museum in 1816, the recent sale of the marble bust by Sotheby's in New York would have stirred quite a controversy. Such Greek marbles are owned by the British Museum and the Greek goverrnment for many years now has been working to negotiate their return to Athens.
The background story behind Lord Elgin's acquisition of the marble bust from Rome in 1799 arose from the Earl's instruction to his private secretary to go to Rome and acquire "marbles" for his new residence in Constantinople (Instanbul), where he was to take up post as British Ambassador to the Sultan. Among those marbles included a portrait bust of Germanicus, father of Emperor Caligula, depicted as a young heroic figure.
The recent auction sale of the Elgin marble work was estimated at $3 million to $5 million and ultimately sold to an undisclosed buyer well above estimated value at $8.2 million.