Do touch: Madrid’s Prado opens expo for blind

A new exhibition at Madrid's world-famous Prado museum allows blind visitors to explore copies of half a dozen masterpieces with their hands.

Do touch: Madrid's Prado opens expo for blind
Chinese painter Guo Zhongzheng works on a copy of Titian's painting "The emperor Charles V at Muchlberg" at the Prado in Madrid in 2013. Photo; AFP

For the average punter, the chances of being able to touch a painting by the likes of El Greco are slim indeed, but a new exhibition at Madrid's Prado allows for the next big thing.

From Tuesday on, visitors to the museum can explore elaborate copies of six of the museum's masterworks with their hands.

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The copies — created using sophisticated 3D printing techniques — allow 'viewers' to get a feel for the textural complexity of works at the Prado including a version of the Mona Lisa produced by the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci and Goya's The Parasol.    

One non-sighted visitor expressed his delight at the results.

"It's really successful: I can, for example, make out the texture of the different skin (in the paintings), Juan Torres told Spanish daily 20 minutos newspaper.

"It's also really important that the idea of accessibility isn't limited to putting in (wheelchair) ramps, and that culture is available, and this is a example of how this can happen," he said.

"This is huge step, the fact things have come this far." 

Another visitor was more circumspect. Asked if the paintings were as he had imagined them, Carlos Galindo said he hadn't. "Painting is to be seen, and this (exhibition) is great, but I also know what I'm missing. The colours, for example. I will never see them as a sighted person will."

The Hoy toca el Prado (Touch the Prado) exhibition is on until June 28th, and is free for vision-impaired people and anyone helping them to visit the museum.  


Why Prado’s exhibition on women is provoking sexist storm

Slave, witch, prostitute or mother: a new exhibit at Spain's Prado explores how misogyny influenced the way women were portrayed in art, and the role that the museum itself played.

Why Prado's exhibition on women is provoking sexist storm
Painting entitled Phalaena by Carlos Verger Fioretti. Photo: Prado Museum

“Uninvited Guests”, the museum's first post-lockdown exhibition, is divided into sections with names such as “mothers under judgement”, “guidance for the wayward” and “the art of indoctrination”.

One of the aims is to put the spotlight on “an ideology, a State propaganda regarding the female figure”, which existed between 1833 and 1931, curator Carlos Navarro told AFP.

The artworks from this period reveal a “bourgeois thinking which sought to validate the role that society attributed to women,” he added.   

With this show the Prado, one of Europe's finest painting collections which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year, hopes to make amends for the role it played in this process.

The museum acknowledges that during the period in question, discrimination operated not just against female artists but in the way women were represented in the works the state bought and exhibited.

The show focuses on the period between 1833 and 1931 because that is when the Prado says it started to play a “key” role in the “acquisition and display of contemporary art”.

That gave it “an important role in the construction of the idea of a modern Spanish school” of art.

Young nudes

The exhibition explores how paintings by men at the time relegated women to secondary roles, usually as attractive accessories.   

Two works by Spanish painter Pedro Saenz Saenz, his 1897 “Chrysalid” (pictured above), and “Innocence” completed two years later, both depict a naked, prepubescent girl in a suggestive pose.

Young models at the time were forced to pose naked, in tears, for painters during an era when there was “no age limit or violence in the nude,” said Navarro as he stood before the paintings.

The few times women are the protagonists it is often against their will.    

“The Rebel”, for example, a 1914 work by Spanish painter Antonio Fillol Granell, depicts a Roma girl being expelled by her family from their camp — presumably for some kind of moral transgression.   

The second half of the exhibition features works by women from that era, who were marginalised because of their gender.    

It includes many still-lifes — representation of household objects such as flowers or food. But there are few portraits, as these were reserved for male painters.

'Missed opportunity'

This section includes works by two women, France's Rosa Bonheur and Spain's Maria Antonia Banuelos, who did not get the recognition they deserved in Spain at the time, Navarro said. No works by Banuelos can be found in Spain today, he added.

Ironically, shortly after the exhibition opened, the Prado was forced to remove a painting from this section after it was found to have been painted by a man, and not a woman as previously thought.

And of the 130 works in the exhibition, 70 are signed by men, prompting complaints from some feminist groups that it does not dedicate enough space to works by women.

A group called Women in the Visual Arts, which has over 500 members, said the show was a “missed opportunity” to give overlooked female artists their due.

Navarro, who is the lead curator for the exhibition, dismissed the controversy, saying it was sparked by “historians and especially contemporary art critics who had hoped to be part of the project”.

Uninvited Guests” opened to the public on October 10th and is due to run until March 14th.

 By AFP's Marie Giffard