Museum Home Past Exhibitions Antiquity and Photography: Early Views of Ancient Mediterranean Sites

January 28–May 1, 2006 at the Getty Villa

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Round Temple / Cuccioni
  Curator Weston Naef introduces the exhibition.

In early 1839, the secret of employing light-sensitive silver salts to capture images was revealed to the world. Practitioners of the new medium of photography vied to be the first to photograph the ancient cities, temples, and tombs of the Mediterranean. They traveled from Italy to the upper reaches of the Nile River, throughout the Greek mainland, along the coasts of Asia Minor, and into the hinterlands of the Near East, creating vivid souvenirs of sights too magnificent to express in words.

A pictorial vision often pervaded images made by photographers who were first trained as artists. Favorite views depicted ruins in the pastoral scenery of the Roman countryside and remnants of fallen empires surviving amid the slow rhythms of Greek and Egyptian daily life.

This exhibition draws from primarily from the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, featuring views of monuments and ruins in Italy, Greece, and Egypt, as well as present-day Turkey, Lebanon, and Sudan. It contains examples of a variety of photographic processes, including daguerreotypes, salted paper prints, albumen prints, and carbon prints, and includes several stereographs, or pairs of photographs taken from slightly different points of view. Stereographs produced a three-dimensional effect when seen through a twin-lensed optical device called a stereoscope.

The photographs in this exhibition let us see faraway places and experience the rediscovery of ancient sites firsthand. They reveal valuable information about the state of preservation of the monuments over a century ago. They record surface carvings, traces of paint, and other features that no longer survive, casting light on a past that grows ever more distant.

The exhibition is located at the Getty Villa, Museum, Floor 2.

Sponsored by Merrill Lynch

Generous support also provided by the Villa Council.

See Also

How Were Early Photographs Made?