Spain's top art museum 'Prado' is well-known for its brilliant collection of paintings. Generally people are not allowed to touch any of the exhibits. But recently it was made accessible to visually challenged people at the exhibition called "Touching the Prado".
A 56-year-old , Jose Pedro Gonzalez, slowly ran his fingers over a copy of one of 15th century master Diego de Velazquez most famous paintings, "Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan". His hands ran back and forth over the depiction of the god Apollo wearing a laurel crown, tracing the edges of the garment. "There are many things that you can discover and that you love discovering," said Gonzalez, who has been blind since the age of 14.
The painting is one of six copies of works by masters such as El Greco and Francisco Goya specially created for the museum's first ever exhibition for the blind. They use a relief painting technique that adds volume and texture to allow the blind, or those with limited vision, a chance to create a mental image of a painting by feeling it.
"This is a brilliant exhibition. The only way the blind have had to access paintings is through explanations from another person," said Gonzalez, who has visited the "Touching the Prado" show several times since it opened in January.
Museums in other nations have used the same technique to reproduce works for the blind but their copies were smaller and only in black-and-white, said the curator of the Prado exhibition, Fernando Perez Suescun. The copies in the Prado exhibition have the same proportions as the originals but are smaller to allow blind guests to touch and feel their way through the entire surface.
The museum selected works that are representative of its vast collection and whose details could be highlighted by adding volume."It is hard for a blind person to build a mental image of what these works are like so we looked for paintings that provided information but were clear," Suescun said.
The Prado plans to take the paintings on tour to other Spanish cities once its Madrid run ends on October 18. The exhibition is part of a growing effort by Spanish museums to make their collections accessible to the visually impaired with help from Spain's powerful national organization for the blind, known by its acronym ONCE.
ONCE, which runs a popular daily lottery in Spain that employs over 20,000 blind or disabled lottery vendors, advises the museums on how to improve visits for the blind. "All of this helps not only blind people, but also anyone with any type of disability," said the head of ONCE's leisure and sports programs, Angel Luis Gomez Blazquez. ONCE's own museum in Madrid displays 34 models of world landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Kremlin, that the blind can touch.