Friday, February 12, 2010

The Getty Villa: Reproduction at its best.

Those students who have studied Herculaneum will know of the Villa of the Papyri. The Villa, rumoured to have been owned by Julius Caesars father in law, overlooked the ocean prior to the eruption of Vesuvius. Today it has only partially been excavated. A large extent of it still sits under the modern town of Ercolano, water table problems are major issues for that part of the archaeological site and past excavations have been shall we say less than ideal for the preservation of the Villa.
J.P Getty recreated the Villa in its ancient glory and opened it to the public in California in the 1970's. He used the original plans, that were quite detailed and drawn by the early archaeologist excavators of the villa, to recreate this beautiful copy. The J.P Getty Villa has only just been recently renovated and re-opened to the public. It not only has the look of the original Roman Villa but also houses a vast array of ancient art treaures many from Pompeii and Herculaneum that it shares with the public.
Below is a recent article from "The Province". Enjoy.

Getty Villa full of artistic treasures
Architecture high above Pacific Ocean transports visitors
By Jamie Portman, Canwest News Service
Photographs by: Robyn Beck/Getty Images, Getty Images

The Getty Villa has reopened to the public later after an eight-year, $275 million USD renovation.
It's a moment fixed in a distant time, yet you're experiencing it on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean and modern Los Angeles.

You're plunged back to another millennium, experiencing the architectural beauty of a Roman basilica as it was in the first century, A.D.

Its various features, all of them stunning, immediately compete for your attention: a dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling with intricate scroll decorations inspired by the Roman baths at Pompeii; a patterned floor recreated from ancient marble -- white, yellow, purple -- and green Egyptian granite; a further orgy of marble -- black, yellow, red, white -- in the Corinthian capitals which top the eight graceful pillars which line each side of this opulent interior.

There's plenty more to notice in this single space, from the delicate onyx panelling which lines the narrow side aisles to the remarkable alabaster windows which bathe the ancient statues of gods and goddesses in a soft light. But the Basilica is only one astonishment amid many.

A visit to the Getty Villa, which reopened in 2006 following a $275 million restoration and expansion, throws up surprises at every turn. The eye-filling Basilica is typical of the spaces that invite you to linger indefinitely. But perhaps the beating heart of the Villa is to be found in the Temple of Herakles which you approach through a modest vestibule. Once you arrive, your senses are immediately assaulted by the colourful marble floor with its alternating triangles, but your attention is ultimately drawn towards the niche at the far end and a and a striking 850-pound marble statue of a nude Hercules, one hand wielding the club with which he slew the Nubian lion, the other clutching the pelt of his quarry.

The statue was unearthed during 18th century excavations near Pompeii and fell into the hands of Britain's Lansdowne family. Oil billionaire J. Paul Getty purchased it from the Marquis of Lansdowne in 1951, and considered it the most important work of art in his collection -- one which he wished to share with the world.

The Getty Villa is a free attraction, one which draws visitors from tens of thousands of kilometres away. The only outlay required from you is an $8 parking charge, and even that can be waived if you decide to take public transit instead. Once inside, you're plunged into a treasure house of recreated architecture and landscaping which provide a striking setting for more than 1,200 priceless antiquities.

Getty viewed his art collection as a public trust. In 1954, he opened the J. Paul Getty Museum in the ranch house of his 64-acre Malibu estate to showcase a portion of that collection which included Greek and Roman antiquities, 18th century furniture, and European paintings. Four years later, he decided to indulge his obsession with ancient Mediterranean culture by building a Roman-style villa, inspired by the Villa dei Papiri, a luxurious country house buried by the Vesuvius eruption in A.D. 79 and not excavated until the 18th century. This new home for his art opened in 1974 and became a California cultural landmark.

Getty died at the age of 81 in 1976 without every having visited his remarkable creation. But his legacy continued to transform the cultural landscape of a state he loved. He left the museum four million shares of Getty Oil stock, which at the time was worth $700 million, and this led to the decision by the J. Paul Getty Trust to broaden public access to its astonishing holdings by building another museum -- known today as the Getty Center -- as the centrepiece of a 750-acre site in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking West Los Angeles. When the new Getty Center opened in 1997, its four pavilions featured all the public Getty collections except for the antiquities. The latter would be reserved for a reborn Villa which the trustees envisaged as something unique -- the Western Hemisphere's only museum devoted to Greek, Roman and Etruscan art.

The Getty Center remains a glorious place in its own right, but it's the newly restored Villa which immerses the visitor in the ancient world.

Some critics continue to carp that it constitutes a Disneyfication of museum culture, but Villa administrators have been scrupulous in emphasizing what is authentic and what has been recreated.

For example, the outdoor statues are impeccable copies, but the 23 indoor galleries are restricted to the real thing. Those galleries, devoted to the Getty Trust's priceless permanent collection, are dramatically organized by themes -- including Gods and Goddesses, Monsters, Minor Deities, Women and Children in Antiquity, Athletics, Griffins and Sagas of the Trojan War. Their impact is powerful.

But really, the Villa starts making an impact as soon as you drive through the gates and find yourself moving over flagstones reminiscent of the Roman Empire.

Then, once you park and pass through the entrance pavilion, you're on an ascending museum path which offers tantalizing glimpses down below of an imposing artifact rising out of what appears to be an excavation site.

Then, suddenly and dramatically, you're on a balcony overlooking a magnificent 450-seat reproduction of an outdoor Roman theatre -- where TV star Tyne Daly is appearing this month in a rare staging of Aeschylus's Agamemnon -- and the main entrance to the museum and its pools and gardens. Among the heady delights of the building are its atrium, with its open ceiling and black-and-white mosaic floor; the Inner and Outer Peristyles with their wandering walkways, awesome vistas, sun-drenched pools, terrazzo colonnades, marble fountains tantalizing plant life and dramatic statuary; the dizzying Room of Coloured Marbles; and, of course, the Basilica and the Temple of Herakles. And everywhere there is easy access to the galleries which are located on two levels.

The four gardens offer their own pleasures in aiming to recreate the natural environment of the ancient Mediterranean. The herb garden, for example offers an ancient Roman kitchen garden alive with fruit trees, flowering shrubs and herbs that were used 2000 years ago for cooking and medicine.

The Getty Villa's mission is straightforward -- to foster the study of the classical world and its relationship to other cultures, to expose a wide audience to great works of art, to promote the conservation of antiquities, to encourage scholarly research. But it is also the warmest and most inviting of attractions.

(The Getty Villa is located in the Greater Los Angeles area, at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, approximately 40 kilometres west of Greater Los Angeles. It is open Thursday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but there is an $8 parking fee. The Villa can also be reached by public transit on Metro Bus 434. An advance ticket is required and may be booked online at or by phone at 310 440 7300.)