There is something about the historical masterpieces of an art museum that always introduce this nagging sensation in me. Looking at the work of Da Vinci is one thing- but for some reason I always have a strong urge to touch it. Unfortunately, museum guards are always strategically placed to prevent the harmful oils on visitors’ hands from corroding artwork.
But what happens for those who don’t have the luxury of only looking? This was a question that Madrid’s Prado Museum confronted, realizing that offering audio or braille guides was simply not enough. For the blind to thoroughly enjoy its collection they decided to break the “no touching” rule by creating intricate 3-D replicas of key works which the visually impaired could physically read.
The technique was developed by the Estudios Durero and is called “Didú”, which allows the works to be produced in rich texture but also in full colour. Many who are considered blind still possess limited vision, and for this reason they wanted to reproduce the full tones of the masterpieces.
Starting with a high-resolution photo of a painting and working with partially blind persons, the team pinpoints which details need to be emphasized. For example, eyes of every figure in the painting are always made concave to provide a universal reference point for a blind person’s hand.
Apparent insignificant details become vital for understanding the composition and theme of the painting, so you can feel each painting down to the fine detail of a fingernail. This allows the visually impaired to physically perceive and translate the sensation into a mental image, providing an emotional insight of each work.
Essentially each painting is reproduced with volume to give them a 3-dimensional quality. You can feel the texture of hair on a Goya painting, the smoothness of skin on an El Greco classic, and even trace an expression of dark pensiveness in a Da Vinci masterpiece. At the same time, visitors use an audio guide to direct their “touch interpretation” of the painting so they can feel with their hands what they see in their minds’ eye.
Art appreciation through touch creates a revolution for the visually impaired when it comes to experiencing art allowing them to “see” art again, but it also provides a new avenue of artistic involvement for everyone. Even the most archaic classics become unbelievably exciting when perceived through an alternate sense. The museum provides masks to full-sighted people so that even those with the comfort of sight can have the opportunity to experience art in a profound new way.