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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.