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The Hope Hygieia: Restoring a Statue's History
The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, April 10-September 8, 2008

April 1, 2008

LOS ANGELES—The evolving practice of antiquities conservation is the focus of The Hope Hygieia: Restoring a Statue’s History, a new exhibition on view from April 10-September 8, 2008 at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa.

The Hope Hygieia, a seven-foot-tall, nearly one-ton marble statue of Hygieia, the goddess of health, is on loan to the J. Paul Getty Museum from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  It was found in 1797 at Ostia, the ancient port of Rome.  Since its discovery, the statue has been restored, de-restored, and now re-restored, to bring it full circle.

Discovered 10 meters underground, the statue was missing its nose, inlaid eyes, right forearm, and left hand, as well as parts of the drapery and sections of the snake the figure is holding, including its head.  At the time of its discovery, there was no question that the missing elements would be restored with marble replacement parts designed to look just like the restorer imagined the original sculpture might have looked.  These initial restorations took place in the 19th century. 

Once the statue was restored, it was acquired by the English designer Thomas Hope. The Hygieia appeared whole, its 19th-century restorations essentially untouched, for the next 170 years as the statue passed from Hope to the industrialist Alfred Mond, to newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.  In 1950, Hearst donated the statue to LACMA.

The Hope Hygieia underwent a transformation in 1973 when LACMA lent the statue to the J. Paul Getty Museum for exhibition and de-restoration. In accord with a minimalist aesthetic, the statue was stripped of its 19th-century additions. 

"Starting in the 20th century, conservators and archaeologists began to reject previous restorations, and many sculptures were stripped of their additions,” explains Jens Daehner, curator of the exhibition and assistant curator, Department of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum.  “This attitude influenced the work done by the Getty on the Hope Hygeia in the 1970s when its restorations were removed.”

Consequently, at that time, everything was removed from the Hope Hygeia that was not ancient marble. The desired authenticity, however, was compromised by the absence of naturally broken surfaces:  when the statue was restored in the 19th century, the restorer had cut away the broken parts, leaving smooth surfaces that looked like intentional amputations.

For these and other reasons, new generations of conservators have come to believe that once an ancient sculpture is restored, its original state is lost forever, and the restorations become an intrinsic part of the object’s history.  In 2006, at the request of LACMA, Getty conservators reversed the de-restoration done by earlier conservators, reconstructing the Hygieia to its 19th-century appearance with the goal of restoring it to the way it looked when it was owned by Hope.

“The early restorations had some historical accuracy,” says Jerry Podany, senior conservator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Fortunately, many of the segments that were removed in the 1970s had been preserved, and could be reattached.”  Restorations that were lost or damaged since the 1970s were re-created based on drawings and photographs.

“Objects from antiquity don’t have a static history,” adds Erik Risser, assistant conservator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum, who completed the re-restoration.  “This is simultaneously an ancient statue and a reflection of 18th- and 19th-century attitudes toward antiquities.”

Relying on mechanical joints and soluble adhesives, Risser made certain that his new assembly of ancient and modern elements is fully reversible. Current conservation practice does not entirely reject restoration if it is historically accurate and provides the object some structural integrity—as long as it can be easily undone by conservators in the future.

“The point of this exhibition is to highlight the changing attitudes within the conservation profession and the different ways this particular object has been seen, understood, and interpreted since it was discovered some 200 years ago,” continues Daehner. 
In addition to the Hope Hygieia statue, the exhibition features a 19th-century drawing of the figure soon after its initial restoration, and an engraving of Hygieia in a book on ancient costume by Thomas Hope, both from the Getty Research Institute’s collection, as well as a marble head of Hygieia from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection.

Following its exhibition at the Getty Villa, the statue will be returned to LACMA, where it will be featured in an exhibition titled Hearst the Collector, beginning November 2008. “The Hope Hygieia is the most important example of its type.  The Getty’s contribution to rehabilitating this historic work of art is an ideal example of collaboration between museums.  The restoration would not have happened without the support and approval of Michael Brand1 and Karol Wight2,” commented Mary Levkoff, curator of European sculpture and classical antiquities at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Hope Hygieia: Restoring a Statue’s History, on view April 10-September 8, 2008 at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, is the first of a suite of Villa exhibitions highlighting the complex issues of antiquities conservation. 

All events are free, unless otherwise noted. Tickets are required. For tickets and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit All events are at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Hearst and the Antique: A Larger Context for the Hope Hygieia
The re-restoration of the Hope Hygieia at the Getty Villa offers an opportunity to explore the modern history of this ancient statue, from the time it was excavated in 1797 to the present. Mary Levkoff, curator of European sculpture and classical antiquities at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), addresses issues of taste and collecting, with a focus on William Randolph Hearst, the subject of her upcoming exhibition at LACMA.
Saturday, July 19, 3:00 p.m.

Curators and a conservator from the J. Paul Getty Museum lead one-hour tours through the exhibition. Fridays, 3:00 p.m. Space is limited. Sign up at the Tour Meeting Place outside of the Museum Store 15 minutes before the talk.

Laure Marest-Caffey, curatorial intern, Department of Antiquities, the J. Paul Getty Museum
May 23

Erik Risser, assistant conservator of antiquities, the J. Paul Getty Museum
June 6

Jens Daehner, assistant curator, Department of Antiquities, the J. Paul Getty Museum
July 18, August 15, and August 29

Explore highlights of the exhibition and the Museum’s collection on the Getty’s Web site.

Publications are available in the Museum Store by calling 800-223-3431 or 310-440-7059, or online at

The Language of the Muses: The Dialogue between Roman and Greek Sculpture
By Miranda Marvin
Contrary to the long-held belief that Roman statues of idealized figures were copies of Greek originals, this book argues that Roman sculpture had its own unique style and standards.
(Hardcover, $100)

History of Restoration of Ancient Stone Sculptures
Edited by Janet Burnett Grossman, Jerry Podany, and Marion True
The 19 papers in this volume stem from a symposium that brought together academics, archaeologists, museum curators, conservators, and a practicing marble sculptor to discuss varying approaches to the restoration of ancient stone statues.
(Paperback, $60)

Grecian Taste and Roman Spirit: The Society of Dilettanti (1734-1834)
August 7–October 27, 2008
The Society of Dilettanti was founded in 1734 in London as a dining club for patricians who had made the Grand Tour. They sponsored archaeological expeditions to Greece and Asia Minor, and assembled celebrated antiquities collections. Notorious revelers and wits, this close-knit circle of aristocratic patrons, antiquarians, artists, and architects transformed the study of classical art from a matter of private delight into one of public consequence. This exhibition presents portraits, sculptures, drawings, and rare books that illuminate the society’s first 100 years.

Exhibitions Focusing on Antiquities Conservation:

Antinous/Dionysos (working title)
December 18, 2008–June 1, 2009
The semi-nude Roman statue of Dionysos from the Sculpture Collection of the Dresden State Art Museums is a case study in the history of restoring classical sculpture. The monumental torso, lacking its original head and arms when discovered in the 18th century, has undergone numerous restorations over the past 200 years, and has shifted its identity with each one. During the 18th century, it was given a new head and identity as Alexander the Great. In the 19th century, as a result of advances in scholarship and other excavated examples of the body type, it was identified as Dionysos. In its last change of identity, it became a portrait of the youth Antinous in the guise of the god of wine. After being broken into numerous fragments following World War II, the sculpture now has been reassembled by Getty and Dresden conservators and is presented in the context of approaches to restoring ancient sculpture over the past two centuries.

The Getty Commodus: Roman Portraits and Modern Copies
December 18, 2008–June 1, 2009
The Getty’s marble bust of the Roman emperor Commodus was acquired in 1992 as an Italian sculpture of the late 1500s. But specialists soon proposed that it may be a genuine antiquity 
from the subject’s lifetime in the second century A.D. This exhibition explores how Getty curators, conservators, and scientists have been working to determine the bust’s date and origin. It presents the material evidence and puts the object in context with ancient Roman portraits and modern copies from the Mannerist and Neoclassical periods.

Fragment to Vase: Approaches to Vase Restoration at the Getty Villa (working title)
December 18, 2008–June 1, 2009
This exhibition will present contemporary issues and approaches in vase conservation at the Getty Villa and will illustrate how museum conservators contribute to the understanding and accessibility of ancient vases.  The exhibition will provide a behind the scenes look at how conservators stabilize and assemble the many broken fragments into understandable and more accessible forms. The complex treatment processes and the aesthetic choices available to conservators will be explored as the exhibition illustrates how technical innovation and scholarly contributions all combine to reveal the beauty, form, original intent and iconography of these masterpieces.

1Director, The J. Paul Getty Museum
2Senior Curator of Antiquities, The J. Paul Getty Museum 

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Tracy Gilbert
Getty Communications

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