Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Horses at the Getty Villa

About five years ago, our friend Sandy Cohen decided we all had too much stuff in our lives and began bestowing upon his friends "adventures" for the winter gift-giving festivals. We've gone to Descanso Gardens to see camellias, played in bumper cars for an afternoon (I missed that one, but Len and Michael had a great time), had a Pirate Adventure down in Anaheim, and solved a murder-mystery over dinner at the Marina. This year's adventure was an all-expense paid visit to the Getty Villa.

The Getty is the only museum I've ever been to that requires reservations for a regular visit. The Villa was the only Getty Museum for many years, but now most visitors to Los Angeles are familiar with the looming buildings which sit on top of a hill above the 405 freeway in Brentwood. The Villa is nestled in a canyon overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Santa Monica and Malibu--technically, it may well be in Malibu. The Villa houses ancient art and artifacts from Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman eras.

My first visit to the Getty Villa was either the first or second Christmas I spent in Los Angeles while I was attending law school. That was before the Villa and its surroundings were renovated (which happened after the big Getty center was opened.) We attended a reception for the new president of Case Western Reserve University at the Villa in the spring, so Len and I got a brief look at things then but we didn't bother with an organized tour. I'm a big fan of museum shops, but I remember being disappointed in the gift shop because there were no memorable horse items available.

This time, the gift shop window stopped me in my tracks because there were horses on display. I gave serious consideration to the statue of Perseus and Pegasus on the left in the photograph below. Medusa's head is hanging from something attached to the horse (we know it can't be a saddle, right?) The half-horse on the right was only one of several variations on that motif--I was very tempted by a bronze version with Athena and an owl on a chariot drawn by the half-horse.

I also saw a lovely Centaur, some variations on Cupid and Psyche, and Nike driving a two-horse chariot. I noted that the manufacturer is Pacific Giftware and I found an on-line store selling some of the pieces for less than at the Getty here. They are actually pretty reasonable in price, certainly a lot less than I paid for Aragorn riding Brego at the Black Gates from Sideshow.

The shop also had a number of wonderful books for sale. So many books, so little time. In the photograph you can see the Steven Saylor book Rome. I've read and enjoyed a number of the books in that series. I would also recommend John Maddox Robert's SPQR series which covers about the same time in Roman history. I picked up a book which studies mythological themes from a number of cultures, with the aim of discussing the universality of a number of them. It's interesting reading and a good review of gods and myth from around the world.

This time, there were also some nice pieces of jewelry, but $825 for a shell cameo and even $325 for a glass and silver cameo with horses were a bit more than I had in mind (and Len wasn't volunteering.) I did get a cheap gold-toned Pegasus, but I'm thinking of saving up for one of the cameos.

The Getty Villa is based on the Villa dei Paperi in Herculaneum. Apparently, it is smaller than the original, which makes one wonder exactly how big that one was. The Villa dei Paperi belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law and was burried under a deep layer of lava in 79 A.D. Unlike Pompei, it's harder to dig in Herculaneum, so all of the drawings of the Villa were done by people working underground. This is the pool, which looks toward the ocean. The original pool is something like 16 feet deep. While the plan was to replicate the pool, that depth would have required a life-guard at all times, so this pool is only 18" deep.

The gardens contain only vegetation known to the Romans. Our docent told us that if you look down, it's authentic. If you look up, you'll see non-native-to-Italy plants, because we are in Southern California. Below is the view from the far-end of the pool looking back to the two-story Villa.
The original also has a second story, but we were told that the stairs would have been very narrow. The covered walkways are painted and there are terra cota bas relief insets in the ceiling. A variety of marbles is used throughout the building on both floors and walls.
Since we'd been to the Villa only about six months ago, I decided to devote my visit to looking for horses in the artwork. I came upon a card which said "The horse, a symbol of wealth and status, figured prominently in ancient art. Owning a horse allowed a citizen to participate in social, civic, athletic, and military activities, including the cavalry. In athletic competition, chariot and horse racing were the most expensive and dangerous events and therefore the most prestigious. Ancient riders rode bareback, without stirrups or saddles." Athena created the bridle, however.

In a gallery of things horse, I saw these gold harness decorations.

Here is a bronze horse and rider. I imagined that it could be Alexander and Bucephalus (the first horse in Western history with a recorded name) but it was not so identified.

These bronzes look like Henry Moore could have cast them, they look so modern and abstract. Reproductions of similar pieces were available in the museum shop.
Here's a small group of clay horses. There was a tripod with horses at each of the points, but it was too dark to photograph and flash was not allowed.
Here is a bas relief in marble with horses.
This is from a Roman sarcophagus. The work is beautiful.
The panel on the Labors of Hercules included this bit of information. Why, I wondered, did they not show a mare in the drawing? It was like the day I saw the short on the MGM menagerie and couldn't help but notice that the "Gallant Bess" doing at liberty tricks was not "she."
Horses were a common motif on the amphorae and kraters at the museum. Holding the camera still long enough was hit-or-miss, since I only brought the point-and-shoot rather than the grown-up camera with more control. The relative size of people to horses seems to vary a great deal.
I can't imagine it is much fun for men to ride nekkid. Not particularly aesthetically pleasing, either.
We expected rain, since it had rained and was heavily over-cast in the San Fernando Valley when we left for the museum. That's the nice think about California: Don't like the weather? Drive a few miles. It was much nicer on the basin side of things, but as we left for home, the clouds looked like a new storm would be rolling in. That's the Santa Monica Pier in the photo below, as we drove past at about 50 m.p.h. and I held the camera up out the window. It's always a gamble when you do a "Hail Mary."
Once again, Sandy and his cohorts in this gift-giving put together a memorable day, including lunch, a guided tour, and dinner and games afterwards at Sandy's house. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next year.


kathy said...

You so need to get a stabilized P&S camera. And if you bring the grown-up camera, you so need enfuse.

M. C. Valada said...

Thanks for the links, Kathy. Normally, my Nikon P&S will let me know if a picture is blurry, but I may have ignored the notice. Enfuse is an interesting idea, but I've found that Lightroom's ability to add fill-flash is a useful alternative to what Enfuse might be able to do.

I had my eye on the G9, which the article indicates has been replaced by the G10. I would much prefer to own a P&S that shoots RAW (an option not available when I got my Nikon S1), but the difference in price and size makes me want to save up for the D700. I often use the S1 for video, at which it isn't bad, and I like being able to throw it in a bag or a pocket without taking up much space or weight.

kathy said...

Yeah, the Canon G-series is chunky and expensive, and if your S1 is doing great for you no reason to swap out (and certainly no reason to deviate from getting a full-frame!)

But these days stabilization is standard in nearly all P&S cameras, not just the top-of-the-liners, and the way it extends usability is, well, just like a VR lens: 2-3 extra stops of handholding capability, which given the max. apertures of P&S lenses, is a good good thing. And it's not nearly as expensive as a VR lens. E.g., the S60 is sensor-stabilized for <$250 (and it comes in six colors).

As for the fill light adjustment vs. enfuse, I'm just a computer geek that always believes more data is better than less; like preferring RAW over JPEG. The enfuse results are similar to properly (i.e., no Photomatix explody-sky stuff) using HDR without going the whole HDR route, and the results are different to my eye from curve adjustments, especially in retaining detail. And the D200/D300's auto-bracketing ability was just made for enfuse.