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The Beauty of Art for those who See Differently

Vatican Museum Masterpieces unveiled for the Blind

Close your eyes and imagine...

Cooing notes of laughing lutes and harps play with whispers of myrrh, lemon and cyprus-burning incense... Angels are brought earthbound, sharing their song, embraces of ethereal silk taffeta and glowing warmth of golden halos...Let your fingers trace the cool wind blowing in the robes draped upon the marble Gods…

Can you visualize this?

Embellish this imagery with a madrigal choir, sparkling the soul with Renaissance magic…

Early one June evening, just before the sun had set on the Eternal City, after the all the tourists departed from the galleries, a group of special guests were escorted through the ancient halls of the Vatican Museums by Father Mark Haydu, Dr. Maria Serlupi Crescenza and Dr. Isabella Salandri, for a private tour of the project ART FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED .

His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, the then president of the Vatican City State, also present during our event, was the mastermind behind this concept. Thanks to his clever and gracious thinking, the Vatican Museums has created a multi-sensory experience so that the visually impaired can ‘see' the Masters. Based upon a request he learned from his sister's blind patient, who dreamed of appreciating the Vatican art collection, his Eminence spearheaded this project.

“This project was a large undertaking, recruiting design, restoration and vision experts from around the globe,” explained the cardinal. “Vision is a blessing and art is a gift too all, not a luxury. It is exceptional that we are able to offer access to the miracles of art to people who see differently,” he furthered.

Our glimpse within the Vatican Museums began with a much-coveted tour of the restoration laboratories. These tactile tours permit the visually impaired to explore a selection of original sculptures on display in the Gregorian Profane Museum and in the Vatican Pinacoteca , the Painting Gallery. This 'tour for the blind' enables visitors to icongraphically understand a selection of masterpieces through touch, multisensory systems and musical stimuli. Thermoformed panels and scale reproduction bas-reliefs equipped with Braille legends and dark print descriptions help visitors appreciate the masterpieces.

Our tour was enhanced by Deborah Tramentozzi , an exceptionally profound and touching woman who is passionate about art. Blind at birth, Ms. Tramentozzi has never seen the light of day, nor for that matter, the light miracles of Caravaggio's paintbrush. Ms. Tramentozzi expertly described curves of and lines of sculptures, from the details of a torso's muscle structure to the launch of a kiss from a mouth. Her fingers touched the songs of angels through the voices of a madrigal choir. She added a heartbeat to the canvases and flesh to the sculptures. Ms. Tramentozzi helped us ‘see' the art in front of us. We had goosebumps.

“Thanks to the generosity of our Patrons of the Arts, we are able to offer this special tour to the blind and visually impaired without charge,” added Father Mark Haydu, Director of the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums. “With the diligence and creativity of our experts and donors, we are working to enhance this tour and its offerings to more visitors.” Fr. Haydu was our host for the evening and heads the Patrons program which connects generous donors with sponsorship opportunities in the Vatican Museums. These patrons receive unparalleled access to the Museums, as did our group. With the donations of our attendees we were able to sponsor yet another work to be given a “face” for the blind.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 285 million visually impaired worldwide. Thankfully, 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured. And from moderate visual impairment to blindness, there are so many people who would never perceive walking into a museum, because they cannot see an exhibit… Now, they can too, see the light.

Click here for information on the Vatican Museums' Tour for the Blind and Visually Impaired

In cooperation with TFOS - Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society

About the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society

During the past several decades, a significant, international research effort has been directed towards understanding the composition and regulation of the preocular tear film. This effort has been motivated by the recognition that the tear film plays a critical role in maintaining corneal and conjunctival integrity, protecting against microbial challenge and preserving visual acuity. 

In addition, research has been stimulated by the knowledge that alteration or deficiency of the tear film, which occurs in innumerable individuals throughout the world, may lead to desiccation of the ocular surface, ulceration and perforation of the cornea, an increased incidence of infectious disease and potentially pronounced visual disability and blindness.

To promote further progress in this field of vision research, the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society (TFOS) was created and incorporated as a non-profit organization. The purpose of this Society is to: 

  • Advance the research, literacy, and educational aspects of the scientific field of the tear film and ocular surface
  • Organize and coordinate international conferences, meetings, workshops, seminars and events to promote better understanding of the tear film and ocular surface
  • Stimulate interactions among members, and attract new members with diverse disciplinary interests and expertise (e.g. basic scientists, academic clinicians and industry representatives) into the field of the tear film and ocular surface 
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Amy Gallant Sullivan,
Executive Director, TFOS

Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society
P.O. Box 130146
Boston, MA 02113 USA

E-mail: Amy[at]