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New Director of the Museum of Classical Archaeology

last modified Jan 06, 2021 02:55 PM
Caroline Vout begins her term as Director of the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

Professor Caroline Vout, Director of the Museum of Classical Archaeology

Caroline Vout (Carrie), Professor of Classics and Fellow of Christ’s College at Cambridge, Byvanck Chair of Classical Archaeology and Art History at the University of Leiden, took over as Director of the Museum of Classical Archaeology on 1 January 2021. Carrie will provide strategic leadership, and support for the Museum’s research, teaching and public engagement activities over the next 3 years.

The Museum of Classical Archaeology, founded in 1884, is home to one of the finest collections of plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture in the world.  The Cast Gallery exhibits over 450 casts, taking visitors on a tour of Greek and Roman art and culture from the 7th century BCE through to the 3rd century CE.  In addition, visitors learn about the practice of classical archaeology, about restoration, and about the history of collecting ancient sculpture.  The Museum is also home to a large collection of sherds, epigraphic squeezes and ancient objects.

The Museum’s most well-known plaster cast is of an ancient Greek statue of a young woman, the so-called Peplos Kore, painted in bright reds, greens and blues.  The original statue, dating from c.530 BC, was found on the Athenian Acropolis in 1886, and is on display in the Acropolis Museum. Professor Robert Cook, then Curator of the Museum, masterminded the purchase in 1975, deciding to restore the cast with brightly coloured paint as if the original colours had been preserved.  The painted cast is displayed next to an unrestored cast of the same sculpture, the contrast provoking visitors to imagine how it might have looked originally.

The Museum of Classical Archaeology is visited annually by nearly 15,000 people, including more than 3,000 school children, and is a major teaching and research resource in the Faculty of Classics.

Speaking about the role, Carrie said: “I have been wanting to get my hands on our cast collection for ages. It is an extraordinary resource that gives all of us a three-dimensional encounter with antiquity. Formed (in the main) in the second half of the nineteenth century, it is also a product of Victorian sensibilities. The challenge is to have it speak as powerfully about what it occludes as about what it reveals; to make it a Cast Gallery fit for the future. This is more fun than it sounds. Everything in there is a replica, a fake. As Cook realised, that enables us to do things that we could not do with the originals; asks us to be imaginative, daring.”

You can find Carrie’s recent videos from the Cast Gallery here. She has curated exhibitions at the Henry Moore Institute and at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and is currently part of a team of scholars planning a show, again at the Fitzwilliam, in 2024. She has written for the British Museum, contributed to catalogues published by the Tate, and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, lectured in museums in Europe and across the Atlantic, and given countless schools talks. She is also the current editor of Omnibus, a magazine aimed at school teachers and their students.

Luke Syson, Director of Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum said: “I’m very pleased indeed that Carrie is joining the team of UCM directors. Her modern, highly creative response to this most traditional of Cambridge collections will alert all our museum audiences to the many exciting layers of meaning these casts contain, helping us understand the ways they formed and informed our thinking about representations of the body, human and divine - from when the originals were made, via nineteenth-century scholarly and sporting Cambridge, to our problematic present.”

The Museum of Classical Archaeology is one of nine museums and collections within the University of Cambridge, and often hosts temporary museum exhibitions, supplementing the permanent collection.

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