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The Sense of Touch, c. 1615-16

Jusepe de Ribera
Spanish, 1591-1652
Oil on canvas
45-5/8 x 34-3/4 in. (115.9 x 88.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on View

Jusepe de Ribera was one of the giants of seventeenth-century naturalism. The Sense of Touch forms part of an early and famous series of the five senses he created while living in Rome. Ribera, however, intended more than an illustration of one “sense.” He has invited a comparison between the tactile and descriptive qualities of painting and sculpture—that is, between the brush and the chisel.

The artist demonstrates that with touch, sculpture is recognizable to the blind man. Ribera skillfully presents the illusion of a three-dimensional marble object within the confines of the flat surface of the canvas. He then takes one additional, amusing step by including a foreshortened painting that only the sighted can see. Ribera thus asserts the preeminence of painting over sculpture, signifying his stance in the long-standing competition between the art forms (principally architecture, painting and sculpture), known as paragone.

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