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Antiquity & Photography: Early Views of Ancient Mediterranean Sites at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, January 28–May 1, 2006

March 16, 2006

LOS ANGELES—The Getty Villa’s multidisciplinary approach to exploring the ancient world is reflected in the opening exhibition Antiquity & Photography: Early Views of Ancient Mediterranean Sites, at the Getty Villa, January 28–May 1, 2006.  Featuring some of the first photographs of ancient sites and monuments in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt, the exhibition reveals how early photographers influenced and transformed thinking about antiquity in their efforts to record and interpret the classical world.

Antiquity & Photography is sponsored by Merrill Lynch with additional support from the Getty Villa Council. It is one of three inaugural exhibitions celebrating the return of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu, which opened after a major renovation on January 28, 2006, as an educational center and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.  The Getty Villa serves a varied audience through the permanent collection, changing exhibitions, conservation, scholarship, research, and public programs.

The other two opening exhibitions are The Getty Villa Reimagined (January 28–May 8, 2006), which traces the vision that guided the development of the renovated site; and Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity (January 28–through July 24, 2006), which celebrates the recent acquisition of more than 350 pieces of beautiful and rare ancient glass from the Oppenländer collection. These presentations mark the beginning of a year-round schedule of changing exhibitions at the Getty Villa that will spotlight different aspects of art, culture, and life in the ancient past and its relevance to the modern world.  These exhibitions, featuring loans from public and private collections worldwide, will complement the permanent collection of antiquities installed thematically in the Museum’s 23 renovated galleries.

Created between the 1840s and 1870s, the more than 100 photographs in Antiquity & Photography, many of which have never been on view, are among the earliest made of ancient sites.  Drawn from the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, the photographs capture general views and recorded inscriptions, architectural motifs, and the progress of archaeological digs.  Made for study by scholars in the rising field of archaeology, or produced as souvenirs as well as works of art, the photographs have extensive cultural implications as a point of intersection for history, archaeology, tourism, taste, and pictorial art.

Until the early 19th century, ancient monuments were depicted in drawings, prints, and paintings, often presenting a romanticized view of the past.  The introduction of photography in 1839 changed that with its accuracy of detail and ability to offer a perspective that reconciled truth and beauty.  Early photographers experimented with, and often perfected, photographic techniques while subjected to extremes of climate and terrain in their journeys to ancient sites.  The exhibition includes daguerreotypes, salted-paper prints, albumen silver prints, and carbon prints—all examples of photographic processes invented during the nineteenth century.

Among the highlights are works by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804–1892), whose Mediterranean expedition in 1842–45 resulted in the earliest  surviving body of daguerreotypes of ancient sites. His image of the Parthenon in Athens is noteworthy in that it shows the temple before it underwent extensive renovation.

Also on view are works by Robert Macpherson (British, 1811–1872) one of the most accomplished early photographers working in Rome.  He began taking pictures there in 1851 and eventually compiled a catalogue of over 400 images. His reputation endures, not only as one of the finest photographers in Rome, but as one of the finest architectural photographers in the history of the medium.

Maxime Du Camp (French, 1822–94) made a trip to Egypt in 1849, accompanied by his friend, the author Gustave Flaubert, returning to Paris with over 200 photographic negatives.  He published many of them in a successful book—the first of its kind to be completely illustrated by photographs. Francis Frith (British, 1822–98) also capitalized on the demand for these exotic images.  In 1856 he made photographs of startling clarity and precision with a camera that exposed glass plate negatives 18-by-21 inches in size. These were meant to be hung on the wall alongside paintings.  His images made distant lands seem familiar, and played a crucial role in drawing people abroad. Other large-format photographs, such as those made by Braun and Company, were not suitable as tourists’ souvenirs but were acquired by educational institutions to illustrate the study of art or architecture, or to be hung in classrooms where ancient history was taught.

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Tracy Gilbert    
Getty Communications Dept.

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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