Getty Villa Welcomes Its Ancient Ancestors

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The Getty Villa. Photo by Edward Goldman.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is a well-known tragedy of the ancient world. Two nearby cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, were destroyed, along with their populations. Everything was covered in layers upon layers of lava and ash. But somehow, this tragedy has a silver lining. Since the mid-18th century, archeological excavations of both cities have uncovered an unprecedented amount of artistic treasures – bronze and marble sculptures, well-preserved frescoes and mosaics, and the list goes on.

Installation shots: Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri. Getty Villa. L: Athena Promachos (First in Battle), Roman, first century BC–first century AD, marble. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 6007. R: Fresco with an Architectural Landscape, Roman, about 40 BC, plaster and pigment. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. Photos by Edward Goldman.

The Getty Villa as it was envisioned in the early 1970s by J. Paul Getty is a copy of Villa dei Papiri, one of the best-known archeological discoveries in the outskirts of Herculaneum. Its name comes from the very fact that this villa had a unique library of more than 1000 papyrus scrolls, the only such surviving library from antiquity.

Installation shots: Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri. Getty Villa. L: Philosopher, Roman, first century BC – first century AD, bronze, bone, and stone. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. R: Poet (“Psuedo Seneca”), Roman, first century BC – first century AD, bronze, bone, and stone. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. Photos by Edward Goldman.

Some of these papyrus scrolls are on view in the exhibition, Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri, which just opened at the Getty Villa and will run until October 28. This unique exhibition is the result of years of collaboration with the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Installation shot: Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri. Getty Villa. L: Drunken Satyr, Roman, first century BC–first century AD; bronze, copper, tin, and bone. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 5628. Reproduced by agreement with the Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities and Tourism, National Archaeological Museum. R: Detail shot. Photos by Edward Goldman.

I trust that you, my friends, have been to the Getty Villa many times, admiring contemporary copies of Roman frescoes and bronze sculpture in its outdoor gardens. Now, in this exhibition of treasures from Villa dei Papiri, we have the rare privilege to look at and study two-thousand-year-old originals. The most famous of these treasures is a life-size statue of a Drunken Satyr, the mythical character from the legends of the wine god Bacchus. The contemporary copy of this sculpture has been in the pool of the Getty Villa since its opening in 1974. Now, for the first time, we have a chance to come very close and look at the happily drunken face of the original Satyr.

Installation shot: Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri. Getty Villa. Runners, Roman, first century BC–first century AD; bronze, bone, and stone. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 5626-5627. Photo by Edward Goldman.

Like me, you probably passed many times by two bronze sculptures of naked Runners by the pool without looking at them closely. Now that I’ve had the chance to look at the originals, I realized these youths have personalities and character.

 Detail shot: Runners, Roman, first century BC–first century AD; bronze, bone, and stone. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 5626-5627.

Take a look at the images on our site – their faces, with remarkably well-preserved eyes made from stone and bone, makes one think of contemporary photography of Olympic runners.

Edward Goldman invites you to join him on a tour of the Getty Villa. Photo by Tom Mobley.

Guilty as charged – after seeing this exhibition, I had a glass of good red wine, another way to pay respect to these ancient guests visiting LA. Actually, The Getty Villa is hosting a whole series of related events, Bacchus Uncorked, inviting visitors to taste, drink, and think like an ancient Roman.

And, if all that hasn’t piqued your interest to see the exhibition, how about this? All these treasures from Napoli place us at only 1 degree of separation from Julius Caesar – yes, Julius Caesar – whose father-in-law was the supposed owner of the original Villa dei Papiri.

Credits

Host:
Edward Goldman

Producer:
Kathleen Yore