The Getty Villa is at the easterly end of the Malibu coast in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States. One of two campuses of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Villa is an educational center and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. The collection has 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD, including the Lansdowne Heracles and the Victorious Youth.
In 1954, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty opened a gallery adjacent to his home in Pacific Palisades. Quickly running out of room, he built a second museum, the Getty Villa, on the property down the hill from the original gallery. The Getty Villa is a re-creation of a Roman country house based on ancient examples—and the original home of the Getty Museum. The Getty Villa is modeled after the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy. It was designed by architects Robert E. Langdon, Jr., and Ernest C. Wilson, Jr., in consultation with archeologist Norman Neuerburg.
The villa design was inspired by the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum and incorporated additional details from several other ancient sites. The Villa dei Papiri (“Villa of the Papyruses”) was rediscovered in the 1750s. The excavation recovered bronze and marble sculptures, wall paintings, colorful stone pavements, and over a thousand papyrus scrolls—hence the name.
To meet the museum’s total space needs, the museum decided to split between the two locations with the Getty Villa housing the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. The Getty Villa shows Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities within Roman-inspired architecture and surrounded by Roman-style gardens. The art is arranged by themes, e.g., Gods and Goddesses, Dionysos and the Theater, and Stories of the Trojan War. The new architectural plan surrounding the Villa is designed to simulate an archaeological dig. In 2016–2018 the collection was reinstalled in a chronological arrangement emphasizing art-historical themes.
The Building Complex
The Villa as it is located just east of the city limits of Malibu in the city of Los Angeles in the community of Pacific Palisades. The 64 acres (26 ha) museum complex sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which is about 100 feet (30 m) from the entrance to the property. The museum has 48,000 sq ft (4,500 m2) of gallery space.
Buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, much of the Villa dei Papiri remains unexcavated. Therefore, architects based many of the Museum’s architectural and landscaping details on elements from other ancient Roman houses in the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. The scale, appearance, and some of the materials of the Getty Villa are taken from the Villa dei Papiri.
Gardens are integral to the setting of the Getty Villa, as they were in the ancient Roman home, and include herbs and shrubs inspired by those grown in ancient Roman homes for food and ceremony. A wide and light-filled view of the Villa Atrium, just inside the main entrance, which features an intricately inlaid tile floor and a square pool, with the far doors open to the Inner Peristyle and its garden.
Renovation of the Getty Villa began in 1996. The museum building retained its original design, but architects Machado and Silvetti made some changes to the site. The main entrance was moved, windows and skylights were installed in the upper galleries, and some new buildings were added to the campus, including a new parking structure, an entry pavilion, and a classical outdoor theater.
A visit now begins in an open-air Entry Pavilion and then progresses along a scenic pathway to the heart of the site. As each building is at a slightly different elevation, visitors experience different perspectives at every turn. The first view of the Villa includes the original museum building and the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, a 450-seat outdoor classical theater based on ancient prototypes. The renovation incorporated modern designs and materials, wood, bronze, glass, travertine, and wood, formed concrete that harmonize with the Getty Villa’s original style.
To the west of the Museum is a 450-seat outdoor Greek theater where evening performances are staged, named in honor of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. The theater faces the west side of the Villa and uses its entrance as a stage.
To the northwest of the theatre is a three-story, 15,500-square-foot (1,440 m2) building built into the hill that contains the museum store on the lower level, a cafe on the second level, and a private dining room on the top level. North of the Villa is a 10,000 sq ft (930 m2) indoor 250-seat auditorium.
On the hill above the museum are Getty’s original private ranch house and the museum wing that Getty added to his home in 1954. They are now used for curatorial offices, meeting rooms and as a library. Although not open to the public, the campus includes J. Paul Getty’s grave on the hill behind his ranch house.
An outdoor 2,500-square-foot (230 m2) entry pavilion is also built into the hill near the 248-car, four story, South Parking garage at the southern end of the Outer Peristyle. A 200-car North Parking Garage is behind the ranch complex. The 105,500-square-foot (9,800 m2) museum building is arranged in a square opening into the Inner Peristyle courtyard.
Four gardens at the Getty Villa Museum offer fresh air and tranquil spaces. Inspired by ancient Roman models, gardens are integral to the Getty Villa and feature fountains, sculpture, and colorful plants known to have grown in the ancient Mediterranean. There are four different gardens on the grounds of the Getty Villa, planted with plants native to the Mediterranean and known to have been cultivated by the ancient Romans.
The largest garden is that of the Outer Peristyle, an exact proportional replica of the one at the Villa dei Papiri. The garden is 308 by 105 feet (94 m × 32 m), with a 220 feet (67 m) long pool at the center. In ancient Roman times, the outer peristyle garden would have been used to converse with guests and for solo contemplation. Replica statues of bronzes that were excavated from the Villa dei Papiri, the Roman villa that the Getty Villa is modeled after. Depicting famous philosophers, political figures, deities, athletes, and animals, they stand in the locations approximate to where they stood at the Villa dei Papiri.
The north wall features frescoes of landscapes and architecture copied from the Villa dei Papiri and another villa in Oplontis. Frescoes featuring theatrical masks on garlands strung between painting columns are copies of those from the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor. The central reflecting pool is approximately three feet deep. At the Villa dei Papiri, it was used for either swimming or fish farming.
It would also have been used to grow plants, ventilate the home, and provide an escape from the heat. Traditional Roman landscaping designs are replicated with manicured bay laurel, boxwood, oleander, and viburnum shrubs. There are rows of date palms lining each of the long sides of the Outer Peristyle garden, while each corner features pomegranate trees surrounded by ornamental plants like acanthus, bay laurel, boxwood, myrtle, ivy, hellebore, lavender, and iris. Copies of Roman bronzes excavated at the Villa dei Papiri and elsewhere are scattered throughout the garden.
Just west of the Outer Peristyle is the Herb Garden, the most functional garden of an ancient Roman house, where traditional herbs sourced from ancient Roman texts are cultivated along with a variety of fruit trees. In antiquity, these kitchen gardens provided vegetables and seasonings for cooking. Plants were also grown for their color, fragrance, and medicinal properties. It was common for the herb garden to have a well or pool for irrigation, drinking, cooking, and bathing.
In the Herb Garden, plants and fruit trees native to the Mediterranean region have been arranged in ornamental patterns and labeled with their botanical and common names. There are a variety of fruit trees, including apple, pomegranate, apricot, fig, quince, and pear. You’ll also find familiar herbs used in cooking, such as mint, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and sage. Papyrus and water lilies are planted in the central pool.
A waterspout of Silenos, a companion of Dionysos, the god of wine, hails over the central pool. The spout is a reproduction of one found in the atrium of the Villa dei Papiri.
The East Garden is small and secluded, surrounded by laurel and plane trees. This tranquil space is shaded by sycamore and laurel trees. Its chief feature is an exact replica of the famous shell and mosaic fountain at the House of the Great Fountain in Pompeii, but there is also a circular fountain at the center of a basin filled with aquatic plants, around which the garden is oriented. Two fountains provide the relaxing sounds of splashing water—the mosaic-and-shell fountain on the east wall is framed by theatrical masks, while bronze civet heads spout streams from the central fountain.
The fourth and final garden is that of the Inner Peristyle. Like the Outer Peristyle, a long, narrow, marble lined pool forms the centerpiece of the landscaping; along each side are replicas of bronze female statues from the Villa dei Papiri, modelled to appear as if they are drawing water from the pool. In each corner of the garden is a replica white marble fountain, and there are also several bronze copies of famous Greek sculptures like the Doryphoros and busts of Greek philosophers like Pythagoras and Democritus.
This garden is designed as a square-shaped walkway lined with columns, and featuring decorative marble floors, walls, and ceilings. At the Villa dei Papiri, the Inner Peristyle garden would have been the first open-air space encountered by visitors. The space would have been used for strolling and conversation. Today, you can access the first-floor galleries or sit on a bench and enjoy the atmosphere.
Statues of young women surround a small pool in the center of the courtyard. These statues are reproductions of ancient bronze sculptures found at the Villa dei Papiri, as are the four busts. The Ionic columns that form the colonnade are modeled after those in the House of the Colored Capitals in Pompeii, while the square marble fountains in the corners are re-created from a drawing in an eighteenth-century excavation report of the Villa dei Papiri.
The design of the coffered ceiling imitates decorative stonework on funerary monuments from the Street of the Tombs in Pompeii. The walls feature panels that represent stonework and pilasters; the design is based on the large peristyle of the House of the Faun in Pompeii.
The collection has 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD, of which approximately 1,400 are on view.
Among the outstanding items is Victorious Youth, one of few life-size Greek bronze statues to have survived to modern times. The Lansdowne Heracles is a Hadrianic Roman sculpture in the manner of Lysippus. The Villa also has jewelry and coin collections and an extensive 20,000 volume library of books covering art from these periods.
The Villa also displays the Getty kouros, which the museum lists as “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery” because scientific analysis is inconclusive as to whether the marble statue can be dated to Greek times. If genuine, the Getty kouros is one of only twelve remaining intact lifesize kouroi. The Marbury Hall Zeus is an 81 in (2.1 m) tall marble statue that was recovered from ruins at Tivoli near Rome.
The Getty collections also include paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints and drawings, manuscripts and rare books, and photographs. See these collections, focusing on art from the Middle Ages to today, at our second location—the Getty Center in Brentwood, about 13 miles east of the Getty Villa.
Floor 1: Greek and Etruscan – Ancient Art in Context
Home to the Getty Museum’s antiquities collection, the Getty Villa invites you to experience ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art in an intimate setting that recreates a first-century Roman villa. The galleries are organized to illustrate the development of art among the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean over time.
On the first floor, enjoy Greek art from the Neolithic and Bronze Age—including some of the oldest and rarest objects in the collection—to the Hellenistic period, when the Greeks developed the first fully naturalistic vision of the human figure. Other galleries explore the fascinating world of the ancient Etruscans and offer context around the Villa itself, exploring J. Paul Getty’s collecting habits and reasons for creating the Museum.
Floor 2: Roman
The Villa galleries invite you to explore how styles, subjects, and techniques of art evolved across cultures and times in the ancient world. The journey continues on the second floor with sculpture, jewelry, glassware, mummy portraits, and many other works of art from the Roman Empire.
Don’t miss two dramatic, skylit galleries featuring Roman sculpture, and special displays exploring the luxury of an elite Roman’s coastal retreat 2,000 years ago.
Conservation is an essential part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s mission to promote knowledge and appreciation of art by exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving the collections for current and future generations. Our work includes authentication, research into artists’ methods and materials, preventive care of the collections and loans, and innovation in conservation treatment and mountmaking methodologies. The four Museum conservation departments collaborate extensively on research and treatment with colleagues at the Getty Conservation Institute and from around the world.
The Getty Villa hosts live performances in both its indoor auditorium and its outdoor theatre. Indoor musical performances, which typically relate to art exhibits, included: Musica Angelica, De Organographia, and Songs from the Fifth Age: Sones de México in Concert. The auditorium also held a public reading of Homer’s Iliad. Outdoor performances included Aristophanes’ Peace, Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, and Sophocles’ Elektra. The Getty Villa also hosts visiting exhibitions beyond its own collections.
The Getty Villa offers special educational programs for children. A special Family Forum gallery offers activities including decorating Greek vases and projecting shadows onto a screen that represents a Greek urn. The room also has polystyrene props from Greek and Roman culture for children to handle and use to cast shadows. The Getty Villa also offers children’s guides to the other exhibits.
The Getty Conservation Institute offers a Master’s Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation in association with the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. Classes and research are conducted in the museum wing of the ranch house.