The Sense of Touch

Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, 1591-1652)
c. 1615-16
Oil on canvas 
45-5/8 x 34-3/4 in. (115.9 x 88.3 cm) 
Credit Line:
The Norton Simon Foundation 
Accession Number:
© The Norton Simon Foundation 
On View

Seated at a wooden table, a blind man uses his hands to thoughtfully perceive a carved head, while a painting rests beside him, unnoticed. By depicting the sense of touch in this way, Jusepe de Ribera engaged in a long-standing debate over the merits of sculpture versus painting. Sculpture was considered the most accessible of the arts, since it could be understood through touch and vision. In his naturalistic rendering of the sculpture, however, Ribera also made a case for the virtuosity of painting. The artist used paint to create effects of texture and weight, emphasizing the man’s wrinkled hands supporting the heavy bust. Through vision, the painting appeals to the sense of touch, inviting viewers to imagine the sculpture’s smooth contours under their own fingertips.


?Feliks Feliksovich Iusupov, Kniaz’ (1887-1967), Moscow and St. Petersburg (until 1919), and Paris.
(sale, New York, Parke-Bernet, 9 April 1953, lot 194, as Spanish School, XVII Century, The Sculptor–Sense of Touch, to);
[Duveen Bros., New York, stock no. 30164, as Antonio de Puga, later changed to Pietro Novelli; sold, as Pietro Novelli, 1965 to];
The Norton Simon Foundation.

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