Touch

Curator of European sculpture and decorative arts Ian Wardropper on the profound relationship between touch and sculpture.

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We don't let people touch for good reason, but it fascinates me what that means.

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  • Ian Wardropper
    1280852
  • Cabinet with personifications of the Five Senses  |  third quarter of 17th century  |  English  |  Satin worked with silk and metal thread, purl, chenille, seed pearls, coral beads, and mica; tent knots, rococo, satin, couching, and detached buttonhole stitches, knots; woven metal thread trim; silk and paper lining  |  Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.1)
    1280991
  • Cabinet with personifications of the Five Senses  |  third quarter of 17th century  |  English  |  Satin worked with silk and metal thread, purl, chenille, seed pearls, coral beads, and mica; tent knots, rococo, satin, couching, and detached buttonhole stitches, knots; woven metal thread trim; silk and paper lining  |  Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.1)
    1280891
  • Pygmalion and Galatea  |  ca. 1890  |  Jean-Léon Gérôme (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Louis C. Raegner, 1927 (27.200)
    7981024
  • A Hypocrite and Slanderer  |  ca. 1770–83  |  Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Austrian)  |  Tin alloy  |  Purchase, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gifts, 2010 (2010.24)
    8101024
  • A Hypocrite and Slanderer  |  ca. 1770–83  |  Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Austrian)  |  Tin alloy  |  Purchase, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gifts, 2010 (2010.24)
    8681024
  • Torso of a Ptolemaic King  |  Ptolemaic Period, 80–30 b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Dark basalt  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and Rogers Fund, 1981 (1981.224.1)
    5851024
  • Oil lamp with friezes of playing children  |  ca. 1515  |  Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Italian)  |  Bronze  |  European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2009 (2009.58)
    11461024
  • Saint Sebastian  |  1566  |  Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian)  |  Bronze  |  Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)
    5301024
  • Saint Sebastian  |  1566  |  Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian)  |  Bronze  |  Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)
    5301024
  • Saint Sebastian  |  1566  |  Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian)  |  Bronze  |  Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)
    5301024
  • Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729)  |  ca. 1703–4  |  Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia)  |  Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron  |  Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
    7271024
  • Paris  |  ca. 1500  |  Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi) (Italian)  |  Bronze, partly gilt and silvered  |  Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1955 (55.93)
    6941024
  • Pair of wine coolers  |  marked 1781  |  Ignaz Josef Würth (Austrian)  |  Silver  |  Purchase, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation Gift, 2002 (2002.265.1a,b,.2a)
    1280910
  • Pair of wine coolers  |  marked 1781  |  Ignaz Josef Würth (Austrian)  |  Silver  |  Purchase, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation Gift, 2002 (2002.265.1a,b,.2a)
    8801024
  • Bust of Marsyas  |  ca. 1680–85  |  Balthasar Permoser (German)  |  Marble, ebony socle inlaid with marble  |  Purchase, Rogers Fund and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2002 (2002.468)
    7131024
  • Bust of Marsyas  |  ca. 1680–85  |  Balthasar Permoser (German)  |  Marble, ebony socle inlaid with marble  |  Purchase, Rogers Fund and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2002 (2002.468)
    7051024
  • Pair of eyes  |  5th century b.c. or later  |  Probably Greek  |  Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian  |  Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
    1280586
  • Belisarius and his Guide  |  1791  |  Antoine Denis Chaudet (French)  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund and Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 2004 (2004.113a, b)
    8371024
  • Pope Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (1574–1655, r. 1644–1655)  |  second half of 17th century  |  After Alessandro Algardi (Italian)  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.49)
    9881024
  • Pope Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (1574–1655, r. 1644–1655)  |  second half of 17th century  |  After Alessandro Algardi (Italian)  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.49)
    8791024
  • Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children  |  17th century (ca. 1616–17)  |  Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian)  |  Marble  |  Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92)
    6231024
  • Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children  |  17th century (ca. 1616–17)  |  Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian)  |  Marble  |  Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92)
    6801024
  • Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children  |  17th century (ca. 1616–17)  |  Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian)  |  Marble  |  Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92)
    12801021
  • Nymph and Satyr Carousing  |  18th century (ca. 1780–90)  |  Clodion (Claude Michel) (French)  |  French (Paris)  |  Terracotta  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.687)
    8141024
  • Nymph and Satyr Carousing  |  18th century (ca. 1780–90)  |  Clodion (Claude Michel) (French)  |  French (Paris)  |  Terracotta  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.687)
    1280813
  • Nymph and Satyr Carousing  |  18th century (ca. 1780–90)  |  Clodion (Claude Michel) (French)  |  French (Paris)  |  Terracotta  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.687)
    1192826
  • Ian Wardropper
    1280852
  • My name is Ian Wardropper, I'm curator of European sculpture and decorative arts, and my topic is touch.

  • Museums privilege sight. We let people look, but we discourage people from touching.

  • I find that using my sense of touch becomes another means of perceiving objects.

  • Touching something, someone, hugging someone creates an emotional response, and so touching a work of art, I think, does also unleash certain emotions in a way that might be purely abstract if you're only using your eyes.

  • And it's a pity that we don't allow the general public to do that, but if we let everybody touch

  • the acids in people's sweat would bite into metal, rings on their fingers would scratch objects and there'd

  • be nothing left. For that reason, the only ring I wear is my wedding ring out of love for my wife. We don't let people touch for good reason, but it fascinates me what that means.

  • There are certain kinds of sculpture which are meant to be held in the hand. So you are invited to touch it and to move it. You feel

  • the smoothness of the skin. One pose flows into another—from some angle it might seem a little bit more angular

  • from another it's an incredibly suave, swaying pose. We all use touch as a kind of diagnostic tool.

  • If you go into a clothing store, you are drawn to use your hand to assess the weight of the cloth, is it as pleasing to the touch as it looks?

  • So when I'm examining a work of art, I'm often looking for, so to speak, certain kinds of traits, which I can only appreciate through feeling.

  • If you pick up a bronze sculpture, if it's light, that may mean that it's later in date. Technologically they were able to make thinner-walled sculpture more perfectly later. I might pick up

  • a silver object and just judge the sheer amount of metal that went into it. Silver is inherently mercantile and the amount of silver in it means how valuable it is. But it's also about

  • balance—picking up two handles, was it perfectly balanced so that it feels right in the hands?

  • A marble statue might have had old plaster repairs that might not be immediately visible to the eye, but are

  • to the touch, because the marble would be cooler, the plaster would be slightly warmer.

  • I've had some of the most revealing and profound moments exploring a work of art with somebody who's visually impaired. That person is appreciating through keenly developed sense of touch.

  • Recently I went to examine a few works in our galleries with somebody who was blind. In looking at

  • a Pope in bronze, the blind person might immediately, for example, go to the nose to appreciate the character of the person, and understand their age from running her hand over the face. But there are always also these astonishing insights.

  • She said, "Well, he must be sitting down." And I said, "Why is that?" And she said, "Well, feel the belly: His weight is in such a way, his shoulders back slightly. It feels to me as if he's sitting down." Which is not something that ever occurred to me to ask myself when I was looking at the Pope. So there's this kind of logic, which is fascinating.

  • Touch is, through texture, one of the ways a sculptor uses different kinds of material in making an artistic statement, so

  • at the moment that you're looking at Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Faun Teased By Children, I think you also feel the differences between the different forms, so that the highly

  • polished body of the satyr is meant to play off the deliberately roughened surface of the bark of the tree that he's straddling.

  • Often the traces of the making of works of art disappear in the final product, but if you look closely at terracotta

  • you can see fingerprints, you can see the smudging of the fingerprints to create a texture, that he's taken his fingernail and made a slight little crease. You see the sense of touch, it's created this work.

  • And if you hold it, you feel an identity with the artist because your hand is in the same place where his was. But when you put all your senses together

  • you have the full appreciation of a work of art.

  • 29.23.1
    Cabinet with personifications of the Five Senses, third quarter of 17th century, English, Satin worked with silk and metal thread, purl, chenille, seed pearls, coral beads, and mica; tent knots, rococo, satin, couching, and detached buttonhole stitches, knots; woven metal thread trim; silk and paper lining Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.1)
  • 27.200
    Pygmalion and Galatea, ca. 1890, Jean-Léon Gérôme (French), Oil on canvas Gift of Louis C. Raegner, 1927 (27.200)
  • 2010.24
    A Hypocrite and Slanderer, ca. 1770–83, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Austrian), Tin alloy Purchase, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gifts, 2010 (2010.24)
  • 1981.224.1
    Torso of a Ptolemaic King, Ptolemaic Period, 80–30 b.c., Egyptian, Dark basalt Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and Rogers Fund, 1981 (1981.224.1)
  • 2009.58
    Oil lamp with friezes of playing children, ca. 1515, Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Italian), Bronze European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2009 (2009.58)
  • 40.24
    Saint Sebastian, 1566, Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian), Bronze Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)
  • 1996.7
    Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729), ca. 1703–4, Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia), Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
  • 55.93
    Paris, ca. 1500, Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi) (Italian), Bronze, partly gilt and silvered Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1955 (55.93)
  • 2002.265.1a,b,.2a
    Pair of wine coolers, marked 1781, Ignaz Josef Würth (Austrian), Silver Purchase, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation Gift, 2002 (2002.265.1a,b,.2a)
  • 2002.468
    Bust of Marsyas, ca. 1680–85, Balthasar Permoser (German), Marble, ebony socle inlaid with marble Purchase, Rogers Fund and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2002 (2002.468)
  • 1991.11.3a,b
    Pair of eyes, 5th century b.c. or later, Probably Greek, Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
  • 2004.113a,b
    Belisarius and his Guide, 1791, Antoine Denis Chaudet (French), Bronze Rogers Fund and Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 2004 (2004.113a, b)
  • 08.49
    Pope Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (1574–1655, r. 1644–1655), second half of 17th century, After Alessandro Algardi (Italian), Bronze Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.49)
  • 1976.92
    Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children, 17th century (ca. 1616–17), Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian), Marble Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92)
  • 14.40.687
    Nymph and Satyr Carousing, 18th century (ca. 1780–90), Clodion (Claude Michel) (French), French (Paris), Terracotta Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.687)
  • Cabinet with personifications of the Five Senses, third quarter of 17th century, English, Satin worked with silk and metal thread, purl, chenille, seed pearls, coral beads, and mica; tent knots, rococo, satin, couching, and detached buttonhole stitches, knots; woven metal thread trim; silk and paper lining Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.1)
    Pygmalion and Galatea, ca. 1890, Jean-Léon Gérôme (French), Oil on canvas Gift of Louis C. Raegner, 1927 (27.200)
    A Hypocrite and Slanderer, ca. 1770–83, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Austrian), Tin alloy Purchase, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gifts, 2010 (2010.24)
    Torso of a Ptolemaic King, Ptolemaic Period, 80–30 b.c., Egyptian, Dark basalt Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and Rogers Fund, 1981 (1981.224.1)
    Oil lamp with friezes of playing children, ca. 1515, Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Italian), Bronze European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2009 (2009.58)
    Saint Sebastian, 1566, Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian), Bronze Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)
    Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729), ca. 1703–4, Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia), Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
    Paris, ca. 1500, Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi) (Italian), Bronze, partly gilt and silvered Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1955 (55.93)
    Pair of wine coolers, marked 1781, Ignaz Josef Würth (Austrian), Silver Purchase, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation Gift, 2002 (2002.265.1a,b,.2a)
    Bust of Marsyas, ca. 1680–85, Balthasar Permoser (German), Marble, ebony socle inlaid with marble Purchase, Rogers Fund and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2002 (2002.468)
    Pair of eyes, 5th century b.c. or later, Probably Greek, Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
    Belisarius and his Guide, 1791, Antoine Denis Chaudet (French), Bronze Rogers Fund and Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 2004 (2004.113a, b)
    Pope Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (1574–1655, r. 1644–1655), second half of 17th century, After Alessandro Algardi (Italian), Bronze Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.49)
    Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children, 17th century (ca. 1616–17), Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian), Marble Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92)
    Nymph and Satyr Carousing, 18th century (ca. 1780–90), Clodion (Claude Michel) (French), French (Paris), Terracotta Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.687)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Cabinet with personifications of the Five Senses
    third quarter of 17th century
    English
    Satin worked with silk and metal thread, purl, chenille, seed pearls, coral beads, and mica; tent knots, rococo, satin, couching, and detached buttonhole stitches, knots; woven metal thread trim; silk and paper lining
    Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.1)
    Not on view
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Pygmalion and Galatea
    ca. 1890
    Jean-Léon Gérôme (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Louis C. Raegner, 1927 (27.200)
    Not on view
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    A Hypocrite and Slanderer
    ca. 1770–83
    Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Austrian)
    Tin alloy
    Purchase, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gifts, 2010 (2010.24)
    Not on view
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Torso of a Ptolemaic King
    Ptolemaic Period, 80–30 b.c.
    Egyptian
    Dark basalt
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and Rogers Fund, 1981 (1981.224.1)
    On view: Gallery 137
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Oil lamp with friezes of playing children
    ca. 1515
    Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Italian)
    Bronze
    European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2009 (2009.58)
    On view: Gallery 521
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Saint Sebastian
    1566
    Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian)
    Bronze
    Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)
    On view: Gallery 536
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729)
    ca. 1703–4
    Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia)
    Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron
    Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
    On view: Gallery 551
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Paris
    ca. 1500
    Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi) (Italian)
    Bronze, partly gilt and silvered
    Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1955 (55.93)
    On view: Gallery 536
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Pair of wine coolers
    marked 1781
    Ignaz Josef Würth (Austrian)
    Silver
    Purchase, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation Gift, 2002 (2002.265.1a,b,.2a)
    Not on view
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Bust of Marsyas
    ca. 1680–85
    Balthasar Permoser (German)
    Marble, ebony socle inlaid with marble
    Purchase, Rogers Fund and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2002 (2002.468)
    On view: Gallery 548
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Pair of eyes
    5th century b.c. or later
    Probably Greek
    Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian
    Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
    On view: Gallery 156
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Belisarius and his Guide
    1791
    Antoine Denis Chaudet (French)
    Bronze
    Rogers Fund and Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 2004 (2004.113a, b)
    On view: Gallery 553
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Pope Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (1574–1655, r. 1644–1655)
    second half of 17th century
    After Alessandro Algardi (Italian)
    Bronze
    Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.49)
    On view: Gallery 550
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children
    17th century (ca. 1616–17)
    Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian)
    Marble
    Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92)
    On view: Gallery 534
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Nymph and Satyr Carousing
    18th century (ca. 1780–90)
    Clodion (Claude Michel) (French)
    French (Paris)
    Terracotta
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.687)
    On view: Gallery 552
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor

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