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Getty Villa gets first major loan from Sicily

June 2, 2010 | 11:32 am

Getty krater Pacific Palisades and Agrigento, Italy, have a couple of things in common.

The Palisades has the Getty Villa, where Greco-Roman antiquities reign supreme, while Agrigento was a leading Sicilian city during the expansive reign of ancient Greece. Today Agrigento boasts a knock-out Archaeological Museum near an impressive lineup of Doric temples.

Southern California is also earthquake country. So is Sicily, where Agrigento hugs a high plateau on the southwest Mediterranean coast.

Now the Sicilian Ministry of Culture has made its first loan to the Getty Villa, part of an agreement announced in February. The monumental red-figure wine mixing vessel, or volute-krater, was produced in Athens sometime between 475-450 BC.

Decorated by the so-called Niobid Painter, the big vessel, which stands just under 3 feet tall, depicts a fierce battle between Greek warriors and a group of Amazons. Greek artists loved a good slaughter, especially when heroic deeds could be portrayed. The Niobid Painter is named for a famous vase in the Louvre, which shows Apollo and his sister, Artemis, killing the children of Niobe.

Call this truly major Sicilian loan, which continues through October, the fruit of earthquake diplomacy. The Getty has the technical chops to custom-build sophisticated pedestals with seismic isolators inside, which protect fragile works of art when a temblor hits. (The Getty Villa's current Aztec show has numerous delicate loans from important Mexico City museums, where earthquake mitigation is also a worrisome issue.) When the loan period comes to an end, the isolator-pedestal will return to Sicily with the vase.

Dubbed the Gela Krater, the vessel is named after the town where it was found in a burial tomb. For now, it's installed on the Villa's first floor, in a room of works that illustrate episodes of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, including the Trojan War.

Next up in the long-term partnership between Sicily and the Palisades: An early fifth-century BC marble statue of a youth (an "Ephebe") will come to the Villa in the fall. It, too, will get a custom seismic isolator base.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Attic red-figured volute krater, Greek, about 475 - 425 BC, attributed to the Niobid Painter. Terra-cotta. Museo archeologico regionale Agrigento, Agrigento, Italy. Credit: Getty Villa


Getty Museum to embark on partnership with Sicily