Best known for its sweeping coastlines and golden sunsets, Southern California doesn’t seem like the sort of place where you would find a grand Roman country house. Yet that’s part of the enchantment of the Getty Villa, a home of an extraordinary collection of Greek and Roman art.
If you want to visit ancient Rome and enjoy one of the most spectacular views in all of Los Angeles, go visit the Getty Villa, nestled up high in the Pacific Palisades. The Villa is a time warp back into another civilization, a zen walk through beautifully manicured gardens, and gateway to a million-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean.
If you’re as fascinated by the art and culture of ancient civilizations as I am, you’d agree the Getty’s holdings are a pure feast for the eyes, mind, and senses. I felt dwarfed by the tremendous scope of the museum, as I walked among some of the world’s most well-known pieces of ancient Roman, Greek, and Etruscan art, including the nearly 2,000-year-old Landsdowne Herakles.
Once I entered the front doors into the atrium, and saw the stunning architecture and elegant statues in the outer courtyard, I felt transported back to the Roman Empire.
It was not unusual back in ancient Roman times for the rich and powerful to have “country homes” outside of Rome where they could go to in order to escape the heat of the city during the summer and recreate. The home or Villa Paul Getty chose to emulate was found in the ancient city of Herculaneum. It had been buried for thousands of years by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano in Italy that erupted in 79 AD, which also buried the city of Pompeii.
The Getty Villa was originally designed in the 1970s, after its namesake, J. Paul Getty, who ran out of room for his illustrious art collection. He hoped to give visitors insight into the ancient world. With architects and even an archeologist, he made plans to create the villa based off of the Villa dei Papyri in Italy. Since Papyri was mostly destroyed after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, they took inspiration from other, similar country homes from that era.
While many during his lifetime despised him, J.P. Getty has left the world a wonderful legacy. Getty, an unpleasant but highly successful businessman, was a passionate collector of antiquities and art. Collecting art became the center of his life. His view towards his hobby is summarized by his quote, “The beauty one can find in art is one of the pitifully few real and lasting products of human endeavor.”
Even though J. Paul Getty was rumored to be a notorious spendthrift–famously refusing to pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson–he was also a philanthropist. His will provisioned that his estate, which would eventually become the J. Paul Getty Trust, should make art more accessible.
The Villa is both a museum and a tranquil escape with four lush gardens filled with fountains, arbors, reflecting ponds, and bronze sculptures. The Getty, hosts a collection of 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD, including the Victorious Youth. Each gallery has a different theme, such as Gods and Goddesses, the Trojan War, Dionysus and the theater, etc.
The exhibit areas are organized thematically, which allows you to compare the different styles used across time and place. For example, the Stories of the Trojan War display contains any item that made reference to Achilles, whether on an Etruscan Vase, a Roman sarcophagus or a stone likeness of the Greek hero. There is a little bit of overlap or overflow of themes. Hercules/Herakles has his own Temple and also appears in the Mythological Heroes gallery.
Along with the bronze statue of the athlete – one of the most famous sculptures in America, found in the Adriatic Sea in the 1960s – it’s recommended you make time for the head of Alexander the Great in marble, the lively artworks of the Etruscan’s, and two sky-lit galleries filled with Roman statues and frescos from the villas of Pompeii (among many others).
The Museum interior consists of 29 galleries on two levels, a reading room, and two interactive exhibits. Downstairs galleries open off an Atrium with an open skylight over a central pool. Beyond the Atrium, sculptured figures flank a long fountain amid Mediterranean plants in the Inner Peristyle, a courtyard surrounded by a columned porch. The doorway straight ahead under the yellow marble stairs leads to the East Garden.
To the right of the Inner Peristyle, is the Triclinium – a fancy dining room in a 1st-century Roman villa. This space is vacant to allow you to appreciate the intricate geometric marble designs on the floor and walls and the grapevine-painted ceiling. The Triclinium opens to the Outer Peristyle and Garden with a reflecting pool running its length. Unlike the Inner Peristyle, there are no galleries behind the long porticos. Latticed openings in the mural-covered walls look through to the grounds beyond. The landscaping of the Villa includes over 1,000 Mediterranean plants.
There is a lot to see, which can lead to museum fatigue, so plan your visit to see what interests you most first.
- Terracotta and Marble Vessels
- Silver Treasures
- Bronze Vessels
- Gods and Goddesses
- Luxury Vessels
- Basilica (more Gods and Goddesses)
- Monsters and Minor Deities
- Temple of Herakles (Hercules)
- Mythological Heroes
- Stories of the Trojan War
- Dionysus and the Theater
- Interactive Exhibits (see next page)
- Changing Exhibitions
- Funerary Sculpture
- Animals in Antiquity
- Arts of Greco-roman Egypt
- Women and Children in Antiquity
- Religious Offerings
- Men in Antiquity
- The Victorious Youth
- Athletes and Competition
- Gems, Coins, and Jewelry
- Prehistoric and Bronze Age Arts
What You Need To Know
The Getty Villa
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Wednesday–Monday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Saturday 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. (Extended hours until August 27, 2016)
Admission is free, but an advance timed-entry ticket is required, which is available on their website. Parking is $20; $15.00 after 3:00 p.m.