For many years, the Getty Villa was a most wonderful place to visit – not only because of its precious collection of antiquities but mostly for the general atmosphere it created. One could so readily imagine walking through the gardens and rooms of a real Roman villa. After all, the Getty Villa is a near-faithful replica of the Villa dei Papiri from
as it shone in all its splendor till it was destroyed during the eruption of
the Vesuvius in 79 AD. Herculaneum
Entering the villa through one of the Stoas or alongside the central pool is pure luxury as new perspectives along the box hedges and oleanders are revealed at each step. The walls of the Stoas are painted imitating ancient frescoes and the Doric columns on the garden side alternate with hanging bronze lamps whose light is dimmed by the alabaster “glass”. When visiting the villa at night, these lamps are lit and shine in a most intimate and melancholic way. The gardens and the pool are enhanced with faithful copies of original bronze statues. At the far end of this Peristyle, the Villa is luring with its clean white façade decorated with slender Corinthian columns. Even the blue skies and the light of Southern California are merging with that of
Southern Italy. The illusion
Once inside the Main Vestibule, the visitor is immediately taken by the overwhelming details of the geometric patterns of the marble walls which are in strong contrast with the floral ornamentation of the painted ceiling. The colored marble floors and white fluted columns make the picture complete. Looking back over your shoulder, the shimmering Pacific Ocean blends with pictures of the
From the Vestibule, you step back into the daylight of the Inner Peristyle (actually copied from the House of the Faun in Pompeii) with its narrow pool guarded by five bronze female statues. This courtyard is surrounded by a roofed gallery supported by Ionian columns and otherwise decorated with stucco. To the left it opens up into the Atrium, the heart of the Roman house from where we can access a number of small rooms, which originally were meant as bedrooms. The Atrium is rather simple with its black and white mosaic floor laid out around a rectangular pool.
Behind the Inner Peristyle and following the straight line from the
through which you entered,
there is a temple dedicated to Heracles next to a small Basilica. The circular Main Peristyle
Garden Temple of Heracles
is domed and its floor is covered with a round spiral mosaic recovered from a
sanctuary at Monte dell’Incastro in
The showpiece Hercules (Roman name for Heracles) is an original marble from 125
AD. The Basilica, on the other hand, is a gem by itself. The barrel-vaulted
ceiling is made using coffered panels and supported by eight white marble columns
dividing the Basilica in three naves. In between these columns stand a few marble
statues, smaller than life-size, among which those of four gracious muses from Cremna
and dated to 200 AD. A true pleasure for the eye. Turkey
East and west of the back of the villa there is a garden, the west one serving as an herb garden – partially occupied by a tea room. Well, this was still the case when I visited the Villa before the Getty Center was built in 1997 to house the collection of European art which was crammed in the upstairs rooms of the Getty Villa.
It is obvious that I enjoyed the reconstructed villa far beyond its precious collection. I feel that the initial idea of Paul Getty was to build an environment that would be appropriate to house his selected artifacts. In my eyes, this is the true success of the Getty Villa.
But times have changed and today’s visitors have a different knowledge and background of antiquities. As a result, the new Getty Center was built on a grand location some
10 miles east of the Villa
and this is where the entire European collection of paintings, sculptures and
furniture found an adequate space.
The Getty Villa, in turn, underwent three years of thorough restoration. Rethinking the entire lay-out, the upstairs’ space is now made available for the artifacts from ancient
Greece, the Roman Empire and the Etruscan civilization. Today’s visitor will discover the collection
in chronological order, starting with the Neolithic and Bronze Age (Cycladic,
Minoan, Mycenaean), to continue with the Greek art ranging from the Archaic
period to the Classical and Hellenistic. He will end with the ancient Roman sculptures.
Parallel and complementary to the Villa’s collection, the Getty Villa will organize a number of exhibitions that will explore the exchange and influence of classical cultures with neighboring countries but also highlight the influence of the classical world on contemporary art.