To hold the shards of a millenniums-old Greek vase is to touch
history. The pieces are smooth, the illustrations so intricate,
so finely crafted, that the goddess Heras eyes blaze just
as sharply as they did in the time before Alexander the Great. Or
Touching an antiquity is to experience the past in a way more intimate
than a photograph or display under Plexiglas could ever convey.
You can learn more by picking up a piece of pottery for five
minutes than you can reading 20 boring articles, says Jasper
Gaunt, the Carlos Museums new curator of Greek and Roman art.
It is Gaunts job to acquire pieces for the museums classical
art collection, and the handful of stray slivers of Greek pottery
he has stashed away atop some books in his tiny office are just
a small sample of his work. They date to roughly 510470 B.C.
You have no idea how lucky this university is to have this
museum, Gaunt says. Gaunts British accent softens his
voice, but when he speaks of his work, his cadence quickens. Yale
has fine antiquities, Harvard, Princeton, maybe there are two or
three other schools. We are in an extraordinarily privileged situation
to have antiquities at all, and to have very high-quality ones.
Its a small collection, but its growing,
he says. There is a depth of quality that very few universities
The Carlos recently has added several pieces to its classical art
collectionsome through donation and others through purchaseand
Gaunt, on the job only since mid-December, is quick to credit Michael
and Thalia Carlos, along with art history Associate Professor Bonna
Wescoat for the growth of the collection.
I wanted to work in a museum, says Gaunt, who graduated
with his Ph.D. in art history from New Yorks Institute of
Fine Arts this past fall. Among museums with classical collections,
[the Carlos] seemed unique in its opportunities for growth and expansion.
Also, theres an ambitious program of exhibitions, which Im
beginning to think about.
Gaunt also is an adjunct professor in the art history department,
and while he doesnt teach any classes, he helps out on occasion
and often consults with both students and faculty members alike.
Thats a nice combination of ways to pass the day,
One of Gaunts first projects will be to reorganize some of
the museums classical art galleries in order to make better
use of the their limited space. He wants to reorganize in terms
of grouping pieces together in terms of chronology or theme.
One idea he has is to put together a case on Greek theater, which
he says would go nicely with Schwartz Performing Arts Center being
built down the street. The Carlos owns several pieces in this theme
outright and shares others with the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida.
A little bit of exchanging here, some fine-tuning there, Gaunt says,
and the Carlos would have a very interesting display. That is just
one of his ideas.
So there might be something on Women in 5th Century
Athens, then there will be something for the men, Gaunt
says. Mentioning a couple of other thematic ideas.
Lets say we have one [case] for geometric Greek art,
then you can have a group of 15 or 20 good objects, Gaunt
continues. There will be literally a window onto the geometric
world. And then the next one will be something quite different.
The kind of titles I am dreaming up for myself are sort of
absurdly ambitious, he laughs, but I think that by doing
that we can make much better use of the space that we have.
Gaunts career in art was destined almost from birth. Born
to British parents in Rome, the only place he could play and not
get run over by the citys traffic was in the Roman Forum,
the citys ancient marketplace.
When he was 9, his family moved back to London, and he entered
into a classical education. He began studying Latin that year and
Greek the next. Eventually, he went to Oxford, graduating with bachelors
and masters degrees in literae humanioresa combination
of ancient languages, history and philosophy.
During one of his finals, Gaunt was given an option of doing an
archaeology paper. He was far from unfamiliar with the subject,
his grandmother was an archaeologist, and Gaunt found that was much
more exciting than, say, philosophy.
You can buy a copy of Plato any day of the week, Gaunt
says, But you can also pick up something that Plato might
have had in his hand. That is much more exciting.
Shortly after graduating from Oxford, Gaunt found employment at
Christies in London, working primarily in the books and manuscripts
department of the world-famous auction house.
Part of Gaunts training involved spending three months on
point at Christies front desk. People would come in off the
street, thrust what they hoped was something rare and expensive
in front of Gaunts face, and hed tell them which of
Christies specialists to consult. Gaunt saw his share of junk
and some very obvious fakes as well as some truly beautiful pieces.
If youre on the front counter, youre bombarded
with this stuff, Gaunt says. You very quickly get a
sense of whats what and the difference between Japanese and
Chinese pottery. I was very happy there for a couple years.
Gaunt came to the States in 1990 in order to work with Dietrich
von Bothmer, a worldwide expert in Greek vases (Gaunts primary
area of interest), who was the curator of Greek and Roman art at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for more than 30 years.
Throughout the 1990s, Gaunt worked on his advanced degrees (he
earned a masters in art history in 1995) and did some curating
on the side. His new position is his first full-time museum job.
Being part of a university museum is wonderful for me, because
it stands between the university and the community at large,
Gaunt says. We exhibit the tangible remains of what so many
people are fascinated by, whether they are professional scholars
or members of the public whose curiosity has been fired. And were
trying to build it up as best we can.