Although it’s only about a twenty-minute drive from The Getty Center, The Getty Villa feels like a world away. Nestled in the hills of LA’s Pacific Palisades, the Villa is more of a home than a museum, designed to resemble a grand Italian residence – the Villa dei Papiri – that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. A showcase for oil industrialist and art collector J. Paul Getty’s ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art and artifacts, the Villa opened to the public in 1974.
Admission to the Getty Villa is free, but visitors are required to book a time-of-arrival ticket. Herb and I arrived a half-hour earlier than we had anticipated and were able to enter without waiting. We joined a narrow line of cars on a seemingly hidden road just off the Pacific Coast Highway, paid a parking fee and walked up a paved pathway toward the museum entrance.
The first thing you notice is a quote from Getty etched on a stone wall just outside the entrance. It offers a bit of insight into the man behind the collection:
“To me my works of art are all vividly alive. They are the embodiment of whoever created them – a mirror of their creator’s hopes, dreams and frustrations.”
~J. Paul Getty
Signage along the top level explains that the entrance was designed to recreate an archaeological site, as if visitors were entering the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum. A curved outdoor theater with stone steps serving as seating spots continues the old-world ambiance. A “stage” at the bottom leads to the museum entrance.
The Villa’s galleries are arranged like rooms in a house, with garden-filled inner and outer courtyards connecting the spaces. We wandered through various exhibits, but found ourselves continually drawn back outside. Like The Getty Center, the landscape here is as much a part of the experience as the art and architecture.
I’m fairly certain that The Getty Villa’s crown jewel has to be the Outer Peristyle. Anchored by a 220-foot-long reflecting pool, the outdoor space features rows of formal gardens on each side of the pool, symmetrically planted and meticulously manicured. Bronze statues replicating works found at the Villa dei Papiri are displayed in vine-covered arbors. The peristyle itself – a Greek and Roman architectural style featuring a continuous porch formed by a row of columns surrounding the perimeter of a courtyard – is a work of art, with murals, mosaics, ceiling details and lovely lanterns decorating every inch of the space.
We headed back toward the Villa entrance, pausing at the top of the stairs for one last look at the Pacific. The afternoon sun was beaming down on the stone, casting a golden hue. I haven’t yet traveled to the ancient ruins of Herculaneum, but for now I have this image to carry in my mind.