Scala/Art Resource, NY

“Living flesh turned to stone”—that is how American artist Benjamin West (1738–1820) described this marble head of the horse of the moon goddess Selena, from the Parthenon’s east pediment.

In 1802 marbles from the Parthenon, Athens’s fifth-century B.C. temple to the goddess Athena, were exhibited in London. The carvings had been removed from the Parthenon and shipped to England by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin (shown in a previous photo in a 1787 engraving by English artist George Perfect Harding), while he was serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

In England, Elgin’s collection created a stir. The marbles’ admirers included a riding master who escorted his students to view the equestrian frieze to give them a lesson in proper horsemanship (see photo of equestrian frieze). Others, however, were alarmed by the discrepancies between the earthly qualities of the Parthenon marbles and the supposedly more ethereal aesthetic of the classical ideal. Still others, like the poet Lord Byron, chastised Elgin for disfiguring the great Athenian temple. In 1816, the British Museum bought the collection for £35,000.

The controversies took their toll on Lord Elgin: He died in Paris in 1841, broke from the expenses he incurred in transporting the marbles to England and disheartened by the criticism of his countrymen.