Since the Ice Age, humans have been using their imaginations to create objects of great artistry and skill, many of them destined for spiritual or religious functions. Exploring the stories these objects tell and the shared narratives they reflect helps us to understand the nature of belief and the complex relationship between faith and society.
In this episode, former British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, discusses these ideas, which are the topic of his recent book Living with the Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples.
Impressionist painter Edgar Degas (1834–1917) is well known for his gauzy paintings of dancers, his motion-filled images of horses, and his striking portraits. But the artist also lived a fascinating life—from a privileged upbringing to family bankruptcy, from defending Paris alongside Manet during the Franco-Prussian War to feuding with the same artist over a portrait.
Getty Publications has recently published two biographical essays, both titled “Memories of Degas.” One is by the Irish writer and critic George Moore and the other by the Munich-born, London-based artist and critic Walter Sickert. Both Moore and Sickert were Degas’s contemporaries and write from personal experience with the artist. In this episode, Getty associate curator Emily Beeny discusses the life of Degas as it is revealed in these two essays.
Buried by the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius and rediscovered in the 1750s, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman villas. This expansive waterfront home of Rome’s elite contained bright wall frescoes, bronze and marble statues, delicate mosaics, and a library of over one thousand papyrus scrolls that were uniquely preserved by the volcanic debris. The Villa dei Papiri is also the model that J. Paul Getty used for his Malibu museum, now home to the Getty’s antiquities collection.
In this episode, curator Ken Lapatin and conservator Erik Risser discuss the exhibition Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri at the Getty Villa, which brings sculptures, papyri, frescoes, and other artifacts from the Villa dei Papiri to Malibu.
Growing up in the UK, Ian Hodder was surrounded by artifacts of ancient societies. He participated in his first organized archaeological dig in his hometown of Cambridge at the age of 13, and since then he has worked at archaeological sites around the world. Over his long career, he has pushed the field in important new directions, promoting ethnoarchaeology (the study of the relationship between material culture and people) in the 1970s and 80s and more recently exploring how digital tools can further archaeological research and knowledge sharing.
In this episode, Hodder discusses his training, his decades-long work at the Turkish site of Çatalhöyük, and his recent Getty Foundation–funded project, Çatalhöyük Living Archive.
Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.8 billion adherents who follow many different sects and traditions. One sect, Wahhabism, has grown tremendously in recent decades, in large part due to Saudi Arabia’s financial backing. Wahhabism’s message is one of intolerance—including towards practitioners of other interpretations of Islam—and this has inspired much of the global terrorism today, including the recent attacks in Sri Lanka, which were claimed by ISIS.
In this episode, author Terence Ward discusses Saudi Arabia’s influence and Wahhabism’s impact. This is also the topic of his recent book The Wahhabi Code: How the Saudis Spread Extremism Globally.
Mid-twentieth century Los Angeles architect Pierre Koenig (1925–2004), was a skillful constructor of modernist homes. The most famous of these were two case study houses produced wholly of glass, wood, and steel and evocatively photographed by Julius Shulman. Yet despite these early successes, Koenig was largely forgotten by the 1980s.
Architectural historian Neil Jackson’s recent book Pierre Koenig: A View from the Archive utilizes the Getty Research Institute’s near-complete archive of Koenig’s papers and drawings to cement the legacy of this important LA figure. In this episode, Jackson discusses Koenig’s career and most notable works.
The painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), commonly known as Velázquez, was an immensely talented painter who achieved great prominence during Spain’s Golden Age of art and literature. Las Meninas (1656), his most well-known painting, is a complex portrait of the daughter of the king and has inspired countless artists, including Goya and Picasso.
In this episode, paintings curator Anne Woollett discusses two biographies of Velazquez written by his contemporaries Francisco Pacheco and Antonio Palomino.
The bestiary, a medieval book of animals both real and imagined, was one of the most popular books in medieval Europe. Detailed illustrations and descriptions of real yet unfamiliar animals like whales and elephants shared the page with those of imaginary creatures like unicorns and dragons. But the fantastical and allegorical stories in the bestiary didn’t live in the books alone—the images and stories of these animals often escaped from the pages to inhabit an array of objects and works of art, from water vessels and game pieces to enormous tapestries and painted ceilings. And these stories continue to inspire artists into the present day.
In this episode, curators Elizabeth (Beth) Morrison and Larisa Grollemond discuss the exhibition Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World, which brings together one-third of the world’s surviving Latin bestiaries as well as art objects from the Middle Ages through today that were inspired by these books.
How has the field of art history changed in the last 30 years? This episode centers on this question through a discussion with Mary Miller, the recently appointed director of the Getty Research Institute. She describes her academic career studying the art of the ancient Maya at a time when this field didn’t fit comfortably into most art history departments, delves into the evolving role of the Getty Research Institute’s library, archives and scholarly programs, and closes the discussion with her thoughts on what lies ahead for the GRI.
With an artistic career that began with political cartoons in his college newspaper, Romare Bearden moved between mediums and styles throughout his life, although his artistic breakthroughs did not come without hard work. Over the course of a long career that spanned a tumultuous period in the fight for representation and civil rights for African Americans in the United States, Bearden became a deeply influential artist. Art historian Mary Schmidt Campbell delves into Bearden’s fascinating life and career in her new book An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, which is the topic of this podcast episode.
Campbell is President of Spelman College and Dean Emerita of the Tisch School of the Arts. She served as the vice chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities under former president Barack Obama.