Tag Archives: Getty Villa

Who Was That Lady?

Athena or Hera or Demeter or Aphrodite or Someone ElseSay good-bye to this ancient Roman goddess before she leaves her present home in The Getty Villa in Los Angeles. She will return this Sunday to her birthplace, Sicily, where, we hope, she will be better treated than before when she was left buried like an old tin can for several millennia. Having seen how nice she looks when cleaned up, the Sicilians suddenly want her back, so back she goes.

Her name is Aphrodite or Hera or Demeter or Athena, depending on the now-missing identifying objects she once held, and on the now-missing headpiece she once wore. Maybe the Sicilians can kick around in the dirt and find something to I.D. the lady.

You can see that Jane Doe — Giovanna Cervus in Latin — is a doughty hunk of woman. Eight feet at least, without shoes. The picture above includes a field trip kid for scale.

Mostly she’s made of limestone, but her head, arms and feet are marble. Marble, intones the informational card on her pedestal, was an expensive Greek import and so was saved for the nicer bits.

We’re also told that close inspection reveals faint traces of pink and blue pigment in the crevices. No such close inspection was vouchsafed this member of the public. The alert museum guards forbade pedestal clambering. Peer as we might from the allowed distance, nothing pink or blue was revealed to our sight. But we take the coloration as a matter of faith from the Getty curators who have never lied to us.

The statue was carved sometime around 400 B.C. Or 400 “B.C.E” to you godless heathens out there. It’s well preserved — not too badly weathered, that is — so we guess the Sicilians valued Ms Unknown Goddess and took good care of her for a while, until they forgot where they’d put her.

Maybe she's Miss Etna 400 B.C.


Merely Women, Getty Villa VIII

DorothyOne more stop here on the second floor of The Getty Villa‘s public galleries and then we’ll break for olive loaf in The Cafe.

Tip-toe with me into a room in the southwest corner. This hushed, gray, dramatically lighted gallery is the current home of some very, very antique statuary that has been wandering around Western civilization for about five thousand years: Cycladic art.

If you, like me, are a victim of public education, you will pipe up, “Cycladic art? What is that?” The helpful informational signs on the museum wall and that all-seeing hive-mind, Wikipedia, supply the answer: “Cycladic art is the art of the Cycladic Civilization.”

If you, like me, are a victim of public education, you will nod and say, “Go on…” The wall cards and Wikipedia do go on, “Cycladic civilization existed in the Cyclades from about 3300 to 2000 B.C.”

We public education victims ask in level voices, “And the Cyclades would be…?”

Cards and Wiki drone on, “The Cyclades, as every well-informed person already knows, are an archipelago — oh, beg pardon, public education victims — are a string of islands in the Aegean sea. That’s the sea to the east of Greece. Greece sort of hangs down from Europe into the Mediterranean. Europe is where France and Germany and things like that are. Remember the movie The Great Escape with Steve McQueen? That’s Europe.”

Don’t let the cards or Wiki provoke you. Instead, simply gaze into the old, old marble statuette above right. Go ahead, look at it… Congratulations. You are now as much of an expert on Cycladic art as the dustiest scholar, because, as it turns out, nobody knows beans about Cycladic civilization, much less their art. All we know is they must have been a humane bunch to produce such deeply heartfelt tributes to their women.

All-knowing Wiki downgrades the tributes to “idols” as in (and I quote) “It is unknown whether these idols depict a goddess, or merely Cycladic women.”

Merely Cycladic women? Merely?

There is nothing “merely” about the women who inspired these exquisite carvings, nor anything “merely” about the artists who carved them. The museum card, in its lofty unknowingness, calls the bust above “Head of Female Figure with Dotted Cheeks.” Which is to say, the scholars have no idea what the artist called the “idol.”

I suspect the artist called it by a person’s name.

The harp player had a name, too.

The Getty Villa.
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles
It’s on the PCH just north of Sunset Blvd.
You’ll need a ticket to get past the guards, but the entrance ticket is FREE. Obtain one via telephony or Web.
Parking is $10 and plenteous.

Leo Mordico et Pruriretor, Getty Villa VII

Reminds me of the cat Ludwig in Arlo and Janis.

You may be feeling peckish at this stage in our tour of The Getty Villa. After all, you’ve dashed in and out of peristyles, flown up and down the stairs half a dozen times and repeatedly circumnavigated the atrium from up here on the second story, all in a sweat to get your classical education up 19th century British public school standards. And you have pretty well accomplished that. But now, like Leo Mordico in the mosaic above, you could really go for a fresh killed onager and an Orangina.

All in good time. Quell your rumbling belly with a handful of Tic-Tacs and follow me to only three more carven marbles. Then it’s time for The Cafe with its tempting offerings of “Mediterranean cuisine.”

If the famous poem “Lines on the Antiquity of Fleas” did not impress you with just how long man (homo) and woman (homolette) have been afflicted with itching perhaps this broke-up Roman (or Greek) figure will:

A little to the right... lower... higher... Ah! There! There!

This marble statue, dating from — Again, I made no notes; all facts are summoned from memory. —  from 8,000,000 B.C., is known today only as “Pruriretor” — The Itching One. There are those scholars who, in the spirit of Thalia, impishly refer to it as “Scaberetor” — The Scratching One — but we firmly reject that name as a bit of dry academic drollery; the sort of dusty jest students down the millenia have responded to with forced laughter if they responded at all. Just look at the position of the hand: facing out. How could Pruriretor be scratching with the back of his hand? He itches, but he does not scratch.

And that’s about all we can say regarding The Itching One. So many of its pieces have been misplaced over the years — arms. legs, the head or heads — that we can’t even say for sure if the remaining hand belongs to him or to, say, a dancing partner. For all we know it was added later. The shrouds of time have wrapped this one up good and tight.

Now, let’s visit two more antiquities — a pair of marble figurines from pre-Grecian Greece — and then you are released for lunch.


The Getty Villa.
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles
It’s on the PCH just north of Sunset Blvd.
You need an entrance ticket to get in. Also a car. You can’t just walk up the drive.
The entrance ticket is FREE for the asking. So ask.
Parking is $10 no matter the size of the vehicle.

Personae Ridiculae, Getty Villa VI

Plenty of his gags are still circulating.See the little bronze mask above? Note the Robin Williams smirk, the Bob Hope nose, the Bart Simpson eyes. See the absurd wig. You may be tempted to hoot. Well, go right ahead. Give in to Thalia the Comic Muse. This is her room, her temple to giggles ‘n’ grins, a gallery just off the atrium, where you may shake off the fusty holy-moley aura that clings to most art collections like a PBS documentary about Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Romans of old loved nothing more than a good laugh (risus bonus) and when they had run out of Dacians to roast in public they would enlist the services of professional comedians. Greeks went to the show to get dejected about Oedipus or Agamemnon. Roman playgoers preferred to spend their entertainment drachmae on early versions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Even when they weren’t wearing out their diaphragms in the amphitheaters, they kept fresh the memory of good ‘uns with statuettes, coins, trinkets, cups and every sort of Happy Meal toy dedicated to the Tribe of Thalia. Getty Villa has here gathered a jokeshopful of them – like the green fellow above, whom you can almost hear repeating ad nauseum the comic catchphrase he’d made ubiquitous for a season in Trajan’s reign.

When you have enjoyed about as much merriment as you can bear, turn abruptly 180°, push past the startled fellow who has been looking over your shoulder, and cross the gallery in three confident strides. You now stand plastered against a glass case containing, among other comiculae, the little clay mask pictured below. Carefully study this fist-sized tribute to some first century funnyman and try to decide — we could not — whether it’s Sean Penn as Harvey Milk or Brent Spiner as Commander Data.

It's Data!


The Getty Villa.
Los Angeles
On the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Sunset Blvd
You need an entrance ticket to get in. Also a car.
The entrance ticket is FREE. Call or Web to get one.
Parking is $10.

Senex et Pueres, Getty Villa V

Bronzo CanisThe Getty Villa is not all ceilings and floors.

It is also walls.

And within those walls you can see art from ancient Rome, Etruria, Greece and thereabouts. So we must pry our eyes with a small popping sound from the upper and lower planes and take in some of the museum’s collection.

Here, to the right, is a bronze bust known as… Oh, I should mention that I failed to take notes about any of the artwork, so I am going to have make up everything you read here. But don’t worry, where my scholarship is shaky, my instincts are sound — a bronze bust known only as Bronzo the Old Man. It was made by a Roman of a Roman for other Romans, but we who are not Romans can still get a kick out the the artist’s merciless depiction of the ravages of age. The bust itself is no spring chicken: it was made in the year, oh, let’s say A.D. 105.

Below is a field trip full of kids that we keep running into no matter what — middle schoolers, I think. They are nearing the end of their forced march through the Glory that was Greece and the Grandeur that was Rome. They are thoroughly quenched. You can tell they are quenched because they are no longer cracking wise — as they had been, and loudly — about the many male members on proud display throughout the Villa (by statues, I hasten to add, not visitors or the Getty staff). The marble statue with its archaic smile no longer elicits the contemporary smiles of 12yo’s.
The chaperon has something of an archaic smile now that his charges have simmered down.


The Getty Villa.
Pacific Palisades, California (part of Los Angeles, really)
On the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Sunset Blvd
You need an entrance ticket to get in.
The entrance ticket is FREE and easily obtained over the Web or with a single telephonic communication.
Parking will set you back one sawbuck.

Scalae Mirabilae et Sedile Scorteus, Getty Villa IV

Escher would have enjoyed these stairs.

After you have mourned the sunken agricola in the peristyle (exterior), you may return through the triclinium, barge into the peristyle (interior), hang right and ascend the Wonderful Stairs to the Second Floor. You may waste a lot of time on those awesome metal stairs, trying and trying (as did your frustrated Gettyguide) to get a snapshot that captures their wonderfulness. The pic above is the only one that made the grade.

See how the stairs are held up? It’s like an upside-down suspension bridge. Great struts looking like the shock system of a Bronze Age eighteen-wheeler hook onto the wall at one end and on their other end hook to a central vertical support. The hooks — like cable tighteners — have a thread so you can increase or decrease the tension depending on how boingy a staircase you desire. This day the stairs are set on extra-firm; no give at all. On other days, or so I hope, the stairs are as loose as a trampoline for unexpected fun.

After all this climbing up and down the Wonderful Stairs, you may well be pooped and eager to rest upon a leathern bench. The Getty Villa is swift to serve you:

Also available in beef jerky.

The bench may look like an infernal device from the Diocletianic Persecution, but go ahead, plunk yourself down and sigh. The leather thongs are supple and giving. Very kind to the footweary stair photographer. Note, while you baby your dogs, how the bench (sedile) provides a fine vantage to appreciate the floor. This floor is not content to merely prevent you from plummeting onto a ground floor Villa visitor. In keeping with the rest of the floors throughout the Villa, it must also look Romish. Little mosaic pieces set serpentine in the linoleum get the job done with snap.


The Getty Villa.
Pacific Palisades, California (part of Los Angeles, really)
On the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Sunset Blvd
You need an entrance ticket to get in.
The entrance ticket is FREE and easily obtained over the Web or with a single telephonic communication.
Parking will set you back one sawbuck.

Agricola Invisibilia, Getty Villa III

Truly hypaethral. No glass.

We have tarried too long on the threshold of the Getty Museum’s collection of ancient art, yes, but not so long that Phoebus in his wingéd chariot has galloped off beyond the Pacific and we missed the beautiful blue sky shining down through the hypaethral ceiling of the Getty Villa‘s main atrium. Lots of room here for passersby, so loiter as long as you want, head turned skywards, enjoying at once the freshness of outdoors and the shelter of indoors. Stay put, though. Do NOT walk around with your eyes raised towards the aether: That tinkling sound you hear warns you of the fountain-fed oblong pool in the center of the atrium into which you must not wade.

Next: Go south one room into the “interior peristyle,” turn right and pass through the triclinium, and continue out into the sunny (when it’s sunny) “exterior peristyle.” Now enter the southern of two circular seating areas and look down. There you will see the very spot where the farmer sank inexplicably through the patterned concrete floor:

The farmer is okay. He only dropped his cap.


The Getty Villa.
Pacific Palisades, California (part of Los Angeles, really)
On the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Sunset Blvd
Call first, or web it up, to get an entrance ticket.
The entrance ticket is FREE, but the parking is $10