Mona Lisa painting

“Touching the Prado” will allow visibly impaired museum patrons to experience paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’a “Mona Lisa” for the first time.

An art museum in Madrid, Spain has begun offering an exhibition called “Touching the Prado” that includes a number of recreated famous paintings which experts have made three-dimensional for examination by both a sighted and visually impaired audience.

Many masterworks have often been off limits to people who do not have the ability to see, but the Prado Museum is trying to change that reality by bringing the sensation of touch into the equation. No longer are da Vinci’a “Mona Lisa” or Goya’s “The Parasol” kept away from the touch of admirers. At “Touching the Prado,” visitors are invited to run their hands along each painting’s surface to examine its texture and bring each work to life.

A review of the exhibition at Amusing Planet states that Estudios Durero, a Spanish startup, invented the 3D printing process that builds layers of ink atop certain parts of each painting. Experts at the startup begin with a high-resolution photo of each painting and determine which areas would be best defined by added texture. After about 40 hours of work, they send blueprints to the printer and allow each piece to rise to life.

Estudio Durero explains its Didú printing process as such: “The Didú technique gives textures and relief of up to six millimeters to flat images,” it begins.

“We select the most suitable textures and volumes to guide the blind person’s hands. In this aspect, small details, which may appear insignificant at first sight, can be fundamental in understanding the composition of each theme developed in each image.”

The startup describes its process as one of “continuous improvement” that can further research can help enhance. An analysis of detail at the New York Times reports on the opinions of several visually impaired individuals including José Pedro González, who first commented on the El Greco classic, “The Nobleman With His Hand on His Chest,” and Andrés Oteo, who gave his opinion on the craftsmanship of “The Parasol.”

González, who has been blind since age 14, praised the work, exclaiming, “It’s an unbelievable sensation. I’m feeling this painting down to the detail of each fingernail.”

Oteo, at first, also praised the exhibition. He said the textures of the paintings allowed for a direct link between what he felt with his hands and what he pictured in his mind. Regarding “The Parasol,” however, he said, “The clothing and the hair felt so similar that I couldn’t distinguish them well.”

It is that type of feedback, an attention to detail, which can help Estudio Durero refine its printing process. The startup will undoubtedly take patrons’ views into account while making changes to its Didú process. For now, “Touching the Prado” contains just six modified paintings. They include the da Vinci, Goya, and El Greco mentioned before as well as a van der Hamen still life, “Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan” by Velázquez, and “Noli Me Tangere,” by Correggio. The exhibit will continue until June 28.

Image courtesy of Dcoetzee via Wikimedia Commons (caption: A reproduction of the Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “Mona Lisa.”)