A Trip To The Getty Villa…

Today we decided to break a from work and get out of the Atelier so we headed off to our favorite museum, the Getty Museum in Malibu. Located only 20 minutes away, we come here often when we need to recharge our aesthetic batteries, so to speak, or simply want to take a break in a relaxing setting while getting a little culture. This time we also wanted to see a special exhibit called Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures From The Villa Dei Papiri which features a number of items that have been excavated from the area buried under volcanic ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD (the Getty Villa is modeled on the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum). Below is a picture of the area today with the excavations:

After a leisurely breakfast, we arrived at the museum just as it was opening (which we highly recommend). We started our viewing with the Roman gardens which have always been an inspiration to us:

OK, one of me first and we’ll get that out of the way… 🙂

Underneath the grape arbor facing out.

Detail of the grape arbor.

View of part of the garden.

Here in Southern California, we’re blessed with sunny warm weather almost year-round and combined with the Villa’s location next to the ocean, it’s an excellent environment for a garden- basically Mediterranean conditions similar to Italy (except for the desert part…). The colors are amazing and especially the shades of green. While it’s not Giverny, it’s still very striking and refreshing, especially on a warm summer day. Here’s a couple more views:

View of another part of the gardens. This area is one of our favorite parts.

The front of the Villa.

Inside, we pretty much viewed the collection in a somewhat haphazard manner, focusing on pieces that particularly interested us. One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to Classical antiquity is that the sculpture was always white and color wasn’t used…not so! Actually, many sculptures were painted were often used to denote eyes and the like; it’s just that over thousands of years most of the color paint has worn off. 🙂 Also, we tend to view Classical antiquity in shades of black and white and while we can’t really offer a profound explanation, we think that’s just a matter of aging and how people perceived the items when they were newly excavated- especially in the past 200 years or so. Here’s a couple of examples from the collection:

Statue of Jupiter, c. 100-1 BC

Statue of a Muse, c. AD 200

It’s probably not that obvious from the photos but looking at these in person, you can make out the remnants of paint, especially about the facial features. While sculpture made up a good part of Classical artworks, here’s something that a bit different and fascinating in its own right- mummy portraits:

Romano-Egyptian Mummy Mask, c. Mid 2nd Century AD

These were found as part of mummified bodies with these portraits depicting the deceased individual. These was typical of funerary practices in Roman Egypt during the 1st through 4th Centuries AD and they represent a continuation of the funerary practices going back to the times of the ancient Egyptians. The portraits were painted in a tempera and gilding on wood. It’s interesting how Roman portraiture was combined with traditional Egyptian mummification to produce this hybrid. Here’s a more complete mummy:

Mummy with Portrait, c. AD 120-140

Note the use of traditional Egyptian symbols. Here’s a better picture, courtesy of the Getty:

Mummy with Portrait, c. AD 120-140

And a detailed look at the portrait:

Detail of Mummy with Portrait, c. AD 120-140

The use of color and gold gilding is striking and it goes a long way towards the dispelling the myth of the “colorless” Classical world. Also, it’s interesting that these portraits closely resemble Christian icon portraiture, something that would start developing a little later on in the same area of the world. Amazing how things flow…. 🙂

Another artwork that caught our eye was this funeral marker:

Grave Stele of Myttion, Greece 400 BC

This stele was originally painted and it depicts a woman wearing a kandys, a robe-like garment of Persian origin that was developed into a women’s coat worn by Greek women (especially in Athens) by circa 400 BC. But what struck us was that this basic style shows up during the 1910s…

Jeanne Paquin, Walking Suit, Spring/Summer 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.474a–d)

Kontoff, Walking Suit, c. 1905 – 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (57.153.8a-b 0002)

Worth, Walking Suit, c. 1913; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.16.3a, b)

This is the perfect illustration of the old saying “what is old is new again”… 🙂 There was a lot more that we looked at but in the interests of space, we’ll draw this post to a close. The main takeaway for us was that color was as much a part of the Classical world as ours today and that the fashions of one era can influence another, even if they’re divided by thousands of years. We’ll conclude with this thought: It’s easy to treat this as commonplace but it’s an amazing phenomenon when one thinks about it. Bear in mind, before the era of the internet and inexpensive (relatively) art books with full-color plates, fashion designers such as Worth as Poiret camped out in museums- it was the only way to get a sense of fashion history.

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