Thursday, 20 June 2013

Three days in Santa Monica and The Getty Malibu

The Getty Museum at Malibu is absolutely wonderful (and is is free). Having said that, let me show you why.

Getty was very wealthy and for various reasons, started to collect only the best in art – and for “collect only the best”, read “collect absolutely only the very very best – cost really is no object”. Having amassed a large number of the very very best, he decided to display his ancient classical items in a recreation of the Villa of the Papyri which was then being excavated in Herculaneum. He had visited it (as have we) and decided that a copy built on a Californian hillside would be just the place for his collection.

So he hired the best craftsmen from around the world to build a Roman villa on a hillside in Malibu with no expense being spared.

GV EntranceWe went to the Getty on the Public Bus (because we do not yet have our own transport) and for $1.50, we were quickly transported up the coast and dropped off at the front gate. Santa Monica seems to have a very good under used cheap bus network and buses are very frequent. Not many people go to The Getty using public transport and therefore we were driven up from the gate to the Villa by own our driver who was summoned by security.

We got there just after it opened and hence had one of those precious moments when you have something all to yourself.

First view of outer peristyle

We climbed up some steps and found ourselves looking into the outer peristyle of the most perfect Roman Villa and immediately in to our side was a statue of Venus caught by surprise when bathing,

Please Touch Please Touch-2

In fact it was a copy of one originally carved by Canova in the late 18th C and he had copied it from a much earlier example. This was the only work of art you were encouraged to touch.

View down on outer peristyle

From the house balcony, you get a good view of the symmetrical nature of the garden. The original pond in Herculaneum was about 6 ft deep in order to show that the owner could afford that amount of water and also to provide a reservoir for watering his fields. California has a safety requirement which says that any pond which is accessible by the public and is more than 18 inches depth must have a lifeguard present at all times – so this one is 17 inches deep. It seems that money cannot get round everything.

Outer Peristyle

Outer PeristyleTrompe D'oueil

As would have been the case in the original villa, the walls were decorated with Trompe D’oeuil . This is one of the windows to the outside world – the perspective has been cleverly painted but slightly incorrectly because many Roman artisans had difficulty in getting it right. The garlands painted between the painted pillars are all slightly different

Outer PeristyleTrompe D'oueil-2

and have the usual sense of humour often found in the originals

Close Up Outer PeristyleTrompe D'oueil-4   

such as this bird which has spotted a grass hopper and is considering it as its next meal.  There also are lizards and mice etc

Outer Perstyle from House End

The box hedges are perfectly cut – it is a most remarkable recreation.

Herb Garden

Adjacent to the Outer Peristyle is a Herb Garden which again is beautifully kept

Lambs Ear Plant

and contains all of the herbs and plants which would be contained within a typical villa kitchen garden including Lambs Wool (above) which has the softest leaves you can imagine. Apparently, Roman Soldiers used to line their boots with it and it hence was often found growing alongside Roman Roads.

Herb Garden-1 

The garden has a rather formal lily pond

Herb Garden Lily Pond

and at the top of the garden is a large Italian Stone Cyprus tree which is one of the few items on the whole site which is growing in its original position.

Inner Peristyle Inner Peristyle Symmetry

The Inner Peristyle is just as perfect  and evinces symmetry and peace and calm. The long view down the inner pond and through the archway through the house gives sight to a fountain set into the wall of the private family garden beyond.

Garden Fountain

This fountain is an exact copy of one in a Villa in Herculaneum.

Ceiling in Entrance

Typical of the ceilings is this one in the entrance – it has been decorated in roman style with fine images of flowers.

Photography is not allowed in much of the house but where it was, we grabbed pictures of some of the items. They are all of the highest quality (the items – not the photographs)


such as these statues of Herakles (left) and Zeus (right)

Fish Plate 

this marble fish plate with some of the original colours showing (the indentation in the middle was used for sauce)

Net Pttern Bowl 

a Net Patterned bowl made from gold

Handle is shape of Triton 

a handle in the shape of a Triton

Bulls Head Cup

a ceremonial cup in the shape of a Bulls Head

Wall or Ceiling Fragment

a fresco fragment

Sprinkler Flask

a glass flask with a delicate entwined pattern known as a “Sprinkler Flask”.

Sarcophagus Panel

This is a panel from a sarcophagus

Sarcophagus ready for sale

and this is a sarcophagus made ready for sale, as in the ones we saw in Turkey recently, it has been carved and got ready for sale – all that remains to be done is for the faces of the occupants to be carved onto the rough hewn faces on the lid. I suppose the masons would be given sight of the deceased and then told to get carving and finish it quickly.

Elephant Freeze

Here is an elephant freeze

Orpheus and two sirens 

a posed set of three statues (Orpheus and two sirens)

Chair from Theatre

and a ceremonial chair taken from the theatre below the Parthenon in Athens (originally taken by Lord Elgin of course)

Detail from Chair

with exquisite detailing on the side

Satyr with a Theatre Mask

a small statue of a satyr with his hand through a theatrical mask – you are supposed to look through the eye holes in the mask to see the eyes of the satyr

Inner Room

and an inner room with original ancient marble walls, slightly church shaped in design. The floors have very delicate patterns on

Ancient Marble Floor-1  

them made from ancient marble. Apparently when the villa was being constructed, they purchased all of the old roman marble which was available on the market and then cut it up to make marble floors. Hence as you walk around, in much of the villa, you are walking on ancient marble.

Children are not forgotten and there is a room set aside for families and children and

 Children's Room

they are encouraged to draw patterns and decorations on plastic replicas of terracotta ware

Pat Shadow fighting Children's Room

or to stand behind a screen and shadow fight with invading Spartans.

We attended three talks whilst we were there – one of the architecture of the Villa, one on the Gardens and an excellent one on some items in the then current exhibition devoted to the Romans in Sicily. The quality of the works included in that exhibition was astonishing.

The Villa should be on every ones visiting list – you have to remember to book in advance because they do not accept casual visitors turning up at the front gate.

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