“Please Touch”

…is not a sign you usually see in an art museum. But Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, or the Museum of the Cathedral of Florence, invites visitors to touch the art…at least some of it…okay…copies of some of it.


Above you see my hand on the head of Jesus in a copy of Arnolfo di Cambio’s sculpture of the Madonna and Child of 1296 that was on the early facade of the Florence Duomo.


Above you see the full copy at left and the original at right positioned at eye level and in the central opening of the reconstructed original facade you read about in an earlier post. The sculptures you see here were placed higher on the original facade but have been placed here at the center to allow visitors to see them more clearly while still getting some idea of where they were positioned.

Touching the copy was amazing! I could get a very good sense of the artist’s focus on sculptural details that would not have been seen by viewers at street level or viewers of the original in the museum. For example, Arnolfo carved curly hair on the back of Jesus’s head, as well as the little folds in the child’s ear. These details seem minor, but for a scholar of Renaissance art they suggest the artist’s desire to enliven the Christ Child with human details, a concept that theologians and Humanists as well as artists were exploring at this time. These are details that a scholar cannot “see” when a sculpture is placed against a wall in a museum…and we certainly are not allowed to touch the original. The “copy” allows scholars to explore the work in a different dimension while using the sense of touch as well as sight. And as with the “touchable” painting by Caravaggio in the Capitoline Museum in Rome (see an earlier post on this), the work is accessible to those who are visually impaired.

What do you think “touchable copies” means for scholars and students of art? What might we learn from these? What work of art would you most like to touch and why? What would the copy have to be like to answer the questions you have about the work?

13 thoughts on ““Please Touch”

  1. The touchable copies allow scholars and student to come closer to the artwork. Not only can people touch the plaster cast of the sculpture, but people would no longer be restrained by how close they can come to the original. Artwork typically has a restriction for how close a person can come to the original to insure its protection, but since the painting can be touched it allows scholars to come closer. Scholars can see the immense detail put into each sculpture, even the back which was usually unseen to the audience of the time. It is amazing to be able to experience sculptures with touch and not just sight. Th sculpture I would like to experience through touch is Michelangelo’s David. The detail in the curls of the hair and the veins in the hand would be nice to experience through touch. In order to experience the curls in the hair the plaster cast would either need a platform to reach the top or be done on a smaller scale, otherwise people would not be able to experience the whole sculpture.

    • I agree, being able to feel the details that the sculptor placed in their works, along with the amazement that they were able to make such realistic details out of surfaces that are typically viewed as hard and block-like.

    • I really like your comment. Visitors can learn the sorts of techniques that artists have used and understand the complexity in the detailing.

      • I completely agree that visitors can learn more about how a work was created by touching a copy of the work. The artist whose work I would most like to touch a copy of is definitely Bernini.

  2. Touchable copies of famous works seems like it would be an easy thing to support. To be able to get a true touch for the style and detail the artist put into it is a quality that is unmatched. Imagine being able to truly get a sense for how Michelangelo sculpted the statue of David, or the Pieta in the Vatican. To someone like us it would be such an amazing opportunity to discover the secrets to the true tresures that exist!

    • I agree that it would be a wonderful experience to be able to touch those works of art and as students who are studying art, it would be a great resource for truly understanding the techniques that went into the piece.

  3. I believe that touchable art would allow those studying it to be able to see how the material feels and to see the small details in a work that they normally would not have been able to see or touch. It would also be a good demonstration on why certain works shouldn’t be touched because the wear on the work would be very visible.

  4. The creation of touchable works along with the raised reliefs, from a previous post talking about accommodations made for those viewers who are visually impaired, are excellent additions to art museums. By being able to physically touch and see how the sculpture formed these works, allows viewers to understand their vision and what aspects of the works they wanted to highlight most. I was able to travel to Saint Peter’s Basilica and was fortunate to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, although it was surrounded by a large crowd and behind a glass encasing. However, I would love to get closer in order to see the details Michelangelo placed on Mary’s face to show the emotion she has while holding the dead Christ in her arms. Overall, this is a really interesting addition and one along with the raised reliefs that I hope become more popular in museums world wide.

    • I agree! I think touchable art is really beneficial to individuals who are visually impaired. It gives them the opportunity to fully experience and appreciate the art. It is another way museums can cater to individuals with disabilities and provide them with more opportunities.

  5. This is similar to the discussion in Visual Art for the Visually Impaired, in the sense that art is accessible to all visitors and to give a different experience. As humans, we rely on all of our senses and by simply using one, we are missing what another sense could teach us. Touchable art allows for new discoveries for art students and inclusion for people who have not been able to view the works. The art is no longer an object that can be viewed from a certain point, but an interaction that allows one to experience the artists talents.

  6. This is really really great in my opinion. There are so many people who are unable to appreciate the beauty of art and sculpture. Allowing for a medium for them to experience art will not only be great for them but even for people who can see, it gives a larger understanding to both parties about the object. It would be incredibly interesting to see what we will be able to touch in the future. This also adds a new dimension and understanding to works of art that we would otherwise not be able to experience. It would be incredible to feel replicas of ancient sculpture and carvings to help connect us even more with the past. Museums are already experimenting with smells, so this is another chance to advance artistic and appreciation to new senses. I have imagined how smooth the sculptures of Michelangelo must be. My only worry is that these replicas will be worn down overtime when the museum will go so the museum must prepare for replacements when they will eventually be necessary. I hope that many museums here in America can experiment with an idea like this. I know that many natural history museums already use this approach with visitors able to touch replicas of dinosaur bones and ancient fossils so this method has already been tested for years, so why not do the same for art? It would be of benefit for all visitors.

  7. I think that touchable copies of famous works can serve as an incredible teaching tool for any educator or mentor in the field of art or art history. I think touchable copies can serve as an excellent way to get children involved with art at a young age. I think that being able to touch a copy of a work gives you a tangible sense of how the medium was sculpted. I would like to touch Bernini’s sculpture ‘Apollo and Daphne’. I think the copy would have to be smaller than the original so that closer analysis could be possible.

  8. Well an obvious advantage from being able to touch a copy would be, like you said, feeling all those minute details like the hair on the back of Jesus’s head and the folds in his ear. Touching things like tis would be very advantageous for scholars and artists alike. For scholars, they can get a better sense of the artist’s intentions, and for artists, they can learn the importance of and how to create small details such as those. For me, that would be very helpful as I work mainly with ceramics and I would like to do more figurative stuff in the future. Something that I would really like to touch would be Michelangelo’s David, for the same reasons.

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