The Sense of Touch
c. 1615-16
Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, 1591-1652)
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.


  • Artist Name: Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, 1591-1652)
  • Title: The Sense of Touch
  • Date: c. 1615-16
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 45-5/8 x 34-3/4 in. (115.9 x 88.3 cm)
  • Credit Line: The Norton Simon Foundation
  • Accession Number: F.1965.1.052.P
  • Copyright: © The Norton Simon Foundation

Object Information

?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.

[on loan]

  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1969 to 1969

[on loan]

  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young Museum, 1966 to 1966

Caravaggio and His Followers

  • Cleveland Museum of Art, 1971-10-27 to 1972-02-02

Jusepe de Ribera lo Spagnoletto, 1591-1652

  • Kimbell Art Museum, 1982-12-04 to 1983-02-06

Jusepe de Ribera: 1591-1652

  • New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992-09-18 to 1992-11-29

Portraits: A Record of Changing Tastes. A Loan Exhibition

  • Palm Beach, Society of the Four Arts, 1964-02-08 to 1964-03-01

Lock, Stock and Barrel: Norton Simon's Purchase of Duveen Brothers Gallery

  • Norton Simon Museum, 2014-10-24 to 2015-02-16

Masterpieces of Five Centuries, Forty-Eight Paintings and Sculptures from the Norton Simon Foundation and the Norton Simon, Inc. Museum

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Reinstallation of Galleries: Art History of the 17th and 18th Century Gains Fresh Dimension

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1993-09-02 to 1995-08-13

The Expressive Body: Memory, Devotion, Desire (1400-1750)

  • Norton Simon Museum, 2021-10-15 to 2022-03-07
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