Touching Art: Multisensory Museums

A wooden model of Christ in a loincloth on a cross.
Christ on the Cross, New Mexico, 18th-19th c, Gift of Mr. W. Jarvis Barlow, © Norton Simon Museum 

In early-modern Europe and the Americas artwork wasn’t produced for museum spaces as we know them now, where multisensory engagement is largely forbidden. On the contrary, touch was integral to understanding these objects. Collectors used their hands to appreciate the texture, contours, and weight of sculptures, and devotees caressed and even kissed representations of holy figures, such as this New Mexican painted wood crucifix from the 18-19th century.

Painting of a white man with a beard holding and stroking a marble head

Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, 1591-1652), The Sense of Touch c. 1615-16 
© The Norton Simon Foundation 
Semi naked  woman, surrounded by two older men and two women.
Jan Massys (Flemish, c. 1509–1575), Susanna and the Elders, 1564, Oil on panel
©Norton Simon Art Foundation

even in the 19th century, there was this idea of allowing blind people to touch art

Georgina Kleege, University of California

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