From the terraces of the Getty Research Institute high up in the Santa Monica Mountains, elevated above all traffic noise, you can - on a clear day - take in breathtaking views of the whole panorama of Los Angeles towards the Pacific coast and San Pedro Bay.
In fact, if you were a scientifically minded nineteenth-century traveller, this would probably be the point where you would want to get out your camera obscura to appreciate the scene in all its clarity. You may, also, have your pocket sextant to hand, as well as your watch and telescope, your pencil and paper; all the equipment that would enable you to call yourself a topographer, serving the great goal of mapping the world. But for a split second, though, the surrounding landscape and the lavish travertine of the Getty buildings may dazzle you into thinking you were somewhere else, somewhere in the Mediterranean, ripe with classical antiquity and poetic associations for the European artist. And the proximity of the Getty Villa, a building inspired by the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum and famously filled to the brim with antiquities, may further your confusion.
A topographical view of Varigotta, a small village in the province of Genoa, by Edward William Cooke, 1845. This drawing was made during Cooke's first Mediterranean tour of 1845-46.
At the beginning of October 2008, I was invited to the Getty Research Institute to represent the National Maritime Museum's Centre for the Study of Art and Travel (CART) by giving a paper at a symposium on Sir William Gell, topographer and artist, who helped pioneer travel and antiquarianism in the Greek part of the Ottoman Empire in the early years of the nineteenth century. The seminar was held on the occasion of an exhibition on the Society of Dilettanti, a group famously obsessed with travel in the Mediterranean and all things ancient.
What an appropriate place for an academic event like this, fascinating in its unexpectedly surreal merger of science and art, past and present.