My Pompeii Obsession Continues at the Getty Villa

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As a follow-up to our enjoyable visit to the Pompeii exhibit (written about here), the Cute-Little-Red-Headed Girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to the Getty Villa.

Representing one half of the Getty Institute--the other half being the Getty Center in Los Angeles--the Getty Villa is a museum dedicated to the "arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria." But really, mostly Rome. Greece and Etruria are more like side dishes.

The Getty Villa is itself a loose recreation of a specific first-century Roman structure, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. We learned this during a short introductory film about the Villa and its benefactor, J. Paul Getty. The original Villa dei Papiri was destroyed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

The lush interior garden of the VillaThe Girlfriend was most interested in seeing the architecture of the Villas, and I the gardens. As it turned out, we were both easily satisfied. As we strolled the Villa, we moved seamlessly from one indoor/outdoor space to another. I was impressed with the variety of textures in the square garden we saw as we walked along the inner peristyle--an open, columned walkway interior to the villa. A picture of it is to the left.

We enjoyed the art in this way, winding into a small room with a cluster of art objects, then out again for the view. The art was arranged thematically, around topics such as the theater, animals, and the legend of Heracles.

A bather looking put outWe then walked the long exterior peristyle that runs along a large and impressive pool. I was much taken with the expression on a statue of a bather in the pool, as seen in the photo here. I feel like that all the time. We paused to view the Pacific ocean at the end of the peristyle and then finished our tour with a leisurely walk through the Getty Villa's abundant herb garden.

After our visit, the Girlfriend and I felt an overwhelming desire for red wine, cheese and bread--all items eaten by the Romans. Fortunately, we had all these things at home, and it was almost lunch.

In the book Fires of Vesuvius, which I mentioned in my earlier post about the Pompeii exhibit, I read about some of the typical dishes eaten by Pompeiians. Stuffed dormice were considered a delicacy. I have no desire to try this dish, though the author's description of how the dormice were caught, kept, fattened, and prepared was fascinating.

I found the description of ancient eating habits so interesting that when I read in the "Further Reading" section at the back of the book that "Plutarch's Table Talk is a mine of curious information on Greek and Roman dining customs," I immediately stepped to my computer to see if I could find it online. I struck out at Project Gutenberg and likewise at the Perseus Digital Library.

I was finally able to track down the text at the University of Adelaide Library in Australia. They don't offer downloads, however, so I contented myself with reading the work online.

Our trip to the Getty Villa only fueled my interest in Pompeii further, so I went in search of documentaries on the subject. My favorite so far is the BBC's dramatic recreation, Pompeii: The Last Day. I also enjoyed a more science-y program on volcanos, which demonstrated how a pyroclastic surge works. I thought about it a lot during the recent Los Angeles wildfires, when a large scaryass pyrocumulus cloud formed over the city.

If you like, you can see more photos from my trip to the Getty Villa by viewing my flickr page.

7 Comments

Nice post. One of my current research fascinations has been with the Late Antique period, specifically the first three centuries CE. Thanks for the gastronomic link, which I will pursue.

Thank you, Mark! Late Antiquity is an interesting period. I have only passing familiarity with some of the recent re-examinations of that era, of the sort you might encounter on educational TV. Is there a particular aspect of it you have been researching?

On my Twitter, one of my readers mentioned a cookbook by Mark Grant called "Roman Cookery" that contains recipes from ancient Rome. I thought I would pass it on.

the Getty Villa is a museum dedicated to the "arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria." But really, mostly Rome. Greece and Etruria are more like side dishes.

Which probably was just fine for the cute-little-red-headed-girlfriend given her love for all things Ancient Rome. :)

The art was arranged thematically, around topics such as the theater, animals, and the legend of Heracles.

Wait. Nothing about Xena?

Hi Joe,

Thanks for commenting! No, nothing about Xena. It was a bit thin on the whole topic of women, actually. There was tons of stuff on Heracles, though. While I was in one room devoted to images of the older Heracles (there was a separate room for the younger Heracles) I couldn't help but think, "Gosh, my bear-loving gay male friends would love this." Heracles was just so manly. But then I was a little embarrassed because it didn't seem like the kind of elevated thought one should be having in the presence of great art.

Thanks for the pics! I can't just get on a plane to see awesome things like the Getty Villa, but I'm a whole lot less jealous when there's a stack of images to look at.

Hi Nicci,

Glad you enjoyed the pictures! Make sure you let me know if you visit Los Angeles.

Back atcha- let me know if you come to South Africa. Dollars go a long, loooong way here. Oh, and if you two want ink, an honour and a pleasure, the latter in a very professional sense of course.

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